John Oliver on the Last Week Tonight show
John Oliver on the Last Week Tonight show
Nuclear energy in South Africa is a highly contested issue; so much so that a court recently ruled against the government’s plans to issue a contract for the construction of eight new nuclear power stations.
The ruling appeared to have delivered a significant blow to President Jacob Zuma, and those who support him, who had set their sights on immediate nuclear expansion. The court’s decision was met with jubilation by those opposing the nuclear plan.
The expectation was that the government would appeal the decision. It didn’t, but this shouldn’t be read as a shift in its thinking.
Minister of Energy Nkhensani Kubayi made it clear after the court ruling that, while there would be no appeal, the government remained fully committed to nuclear expansion, and was planning to initiate a new process without delay.
This signals a realisation by government that an appeal would have little chance of success, and that a lengthy court process would tie up the parties in legal cases for months or even years. This would delay a nuclear build even further.
The minister has made it clear that the government is not giving up on its push for the controversial nuclear plan. But it has realised the process must start from scratch. This is the clearest indication yet that Zuma intends launching the nuclear build before his term of office ends in 2019.
Adding to fears that the government isn’t giving up the fight was the surprise reinstatement of Brian Molefe as CEO of the country’s power utility Eskom. Molefe left the job under a cloud six months ago. His reappointment led to immediate and widespread public outrage. Many have interpreted his return as beefing up the quest for nuclear.
Molefe’s return, however, isn’t as critical to the nuclear project as imagined, as Eskom has maintained his pro-nuclear stance in his absence.
What’s more important is that it’s clear that contestation around the future of South Africa’s energy sector will continue unabated. This despite the president having been severely weakened in recent months, and with it the power of the pro-nuclear lobby supported by his faction.
Engineering News, 11 May, 2017
The recent nuclear ruling, which set aside the Ministerial determinations designed to facilitate the procurement of nuclear power stations, may also carry risks for the legality of the various independent power producer (IPP) procurement programmes, which are proceeding on the basis of determinations that were likewise not subjected to public consultations.
This view is expressed in a risk assessment drafted by Craig Morkel for discussion by the South African Independent Power Producer Procurement Association (SAIPPA). Morkel, who is projects director at iKapa Energy, wrote the piece in his personal capacity.
… “The nuclear ruling made it clear that Nersa cannot simply rubberstamp a determination written by the Minister and is required to, independently, apply its mind before offering its concurrence. It also indicated that such consultations need not be exhaustive,” Morkel said in an interview with Engineering News Online.
He also argued that the judgment provided a genuine opportunity for introspection and review so that future processes were not only fully in line with the Constitution, but also far more transparent and accessible to all stakeholders, not only large industry participants.
“We can’t allow the IPP baby to be thrown out with the nuclear bathwater,” Morkel quipped. …
Global Carbon Exchange, 5 May, 2017
Everyone should know that, for now anyway, the programme has effectively been sent back to the drawing board (hopefully not that same one that “crafted” the last programme).
Perhaps a bit of history is needed to get to grips with all the failings of the Nuclear Programme.
Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), 20 February, 2017.
SA’s first climate change litigation starts in the Pretoria High Court on Thursday, 2 March 2017 when Earthlife Africa Johannesburg (ELA), represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), will challenge the decision of the Minister of Environmental Affairs to uphold the environmental authorisation for the proposed Thabametsi coal-fired power plant.
As far as we are aware, this will be the first time that the South African judiciary will be required to consider the importance of and need for an assessment of the climate change impacts of a coal-fired power station, as a necessary consideration in deciding whether or not to grant an environmental authorisation.
In this case, the Minister of Environmental Affairs, as part of her decision on ELA’s appeal of the station’s environmental authorisation, required Thabametsi Power Company (Pty) Limited (the company proposing the power station) to conduct a climate change impact assessment. However, she upheld the authorisation despite the climate change impacts not having been assessed. This caused ELA to institute proceedings in the Pretoria High Court last year to challenge the Minister’s decision. According to ELA, the Minister should have set aside the authorisation, pending an adequate assessment of the climate change impacts.
Thabametsi, the Minister, and the Department of Environmental Affairs have opposed the application. They argue that there is no specific requirement in South African law for a climate change impact assessment to be conducted and that the climate change impacts had already been adequately assessed as part of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process.
Last month, the proposed Thabametsi power station made available its draft climate change impact assessment for public comment. The assessment reports confirm that:
This report clearly shows that – despite South Africa’s commitments under the Paris Agreements and the fact that government acknowledges South Africa’s vulnerability to the effects of climate change – Thabametsi’s environmental impact report failed woefully to assess the climate change impacts. These are significant impacts which cannot simply be ignored in an EIA – particularly not for a coal-fired power station.
ELA filed a supplementary affidavit shortly after the climate change assessment report was released to bring this to the attention of the court. Thabametsi and the Department have, however, objected to this new information being submitted, arguing that it is not relevant to the matter. It is now in the hands of the judge to decide (1) whether the climate change impact assessment can be considered and (2) whether the authorisation should have been set aside in light of the fact that the climate change impacts of the power station had not been assessed adequately.
Coal-fired power stations are water-intensive, and major contributors not only to climate change, but also to air pollution. By 2014, air pollution emissions from Eskom’s coal-fired power plants were already causing an estimated 2,200 premature deaths per year, due to exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5). This includes approximately 200 deaths of young children. At the time, the economic cost to the society was estimated at 30 billion rand per year, including premature deaths from PM2.5 exposure and costs from the neurotoxic effects of mercury on children.
Climate change in itself will have significant impacts for human health, arising from – among other things – water scarcity and temperature increases. Furthermore, coal mining causes land and water pollution and renders land unusable for agriculture, thereby threatening SA’s food and water security.
Together with groundWork, ELA and the CER form part of the Life After Coal/Impilo Ngaphandle Kwamalahle campaign, which aims to: discourage investment in new coal-fired power stations and mines, accelerate the retirement of SA’s coal infrastructure; and enable a just transition to renewable energy.
Comments on the climate change impact assessment are due 27 February 2017. The assessment documents can be accessed here.
The court papers for the court case (to be heard 2 and 3 March) can be accessed here, at the bottom of the page under “Earthlife Africa Johannesburg v Minister of Environmental Affairs, Department of Environmental Affairs and Thabametsi Power Project (Pty) Ltd”.