Thursday, November 1, 2007

Open the door for discussion."

“Open the door for discussion…”

Public Enterprises director-general Portia Molefe’s letter to the FM on 12 October 2007 refers:

Dear Portia Molefe

Your 12 October letter to the FM and is noted with grave concern not only for the standard “P.R.” lines which are common from the nuclear industry itself, but for the recalcitrance of senior officials and decision-makers in this country to determine for yourselves the truth about nuclear energy and the nuked workers in our country, let alone nuked communities such as Wonderfonteinspruit and others.

The “alarmist misinformation” you write about is based on hard facts backed up by doctors, scientists and academics which volunteer-based groups with no vested interest other than environmental & social justice have literally been begging this government, from the President down, to consider.

We have a hard-won democracy which came with it a promise of transparent accountability, public participation and the best interests of a nation in terms of a precious constitution and some of the best environmental laws in the world. So why aren’t you more concerned about holding the participatory nuclear summit that was promised, and calling for truly independent Commissions of Inquiry into the abuses of the nuclear sector?

Instead, we’re seeing constitutional rights being over-ridden and our precious laws amended to suit those with vested interests. Polluters aren’t paying, and instead are getting away with “regulating & investigating” themselves with taxpayer funds. Nuked workers from the mining and nuclear sectors are seriously ill or dead and still battling for compensation. Some of these cases will soon be taken to court.

In South Africa, the nuclear industry has operated in complete secrecy in its 40 year existence. Koeberg stands accused of falsifying workers’ records, and Nuclear Energy Corporation of SA (NECSA) stands publicly accused of having deceived parliament this year with statements that no workers have been found “with abnormalities resulting from exposure to radiation”.

It is interesting to note that during the years most people in this country believed nuclear ambitions had been shelved – BEFORE the nuclear “renaissance” was announced - certain information had started becoming available.

For example, around 1999 the Council for Nuclear Safety (CNS) estimated that at least 10,000 mineworkers, or roughly one in 20 mineworkers, were exposed to radiation levels that exceeded safety limits. In 1998, according to CNS estimates, 1 000 employees at Harmony Gold mine alone were exposed to radiation levels that in some instances were three times higher than the annual dose limit of 20 mSv a year. At Nigel, workers were exposed to dose levels of up to 130 mSv a year, or seven times higher than the allowable limit. (Business Report Oct. 7, 1999).

In February this year during the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) portfolio committee briefing of its annual budget, its CEO Mr. Magumela replied to a question that in 2002, 7 931 people had been exposed to unacceptably high doses, but this number had declined year by year to 1133, 424, and 8. He said there had been “an improvement” over the last five years but failed to mention this was as a result of a largely stagnant uranium mining industry at the time.
Necsa’s own annual report of 2003/2004 (the only one now obtainable from their entire existence since 1960) clearly states that – among 12 reported incidents of excessively exposed workers - one individual in their employ received 12.08mSv in the year under review, and that in the previous year another individual received an annual dose of above 36.38nSv. Two other individuals received an annual dose of above 10mSv/a, which is way in excess of the ALARA[1] principle which outlines international limits.
Most international companies average a report of 1 incident every 2 years – 12 admitted incidents reported in one year (2003/2004 under review) are excessive by anyone’s standards.
Has the nuclear industry succeeded in performing a complete coup d’etat over this country’s nuclear & energy policies with its own misleading propaganda? Or why are our decision-makers standing firm in not wanting to know the truth?

Volunteer groups have no vested interest in making up these stories. Over 500 former nuclear workers in the past 3 years have come forward with details about occupational illnesses. Already 17 of these known workers in the Necsa group alone have died in the past two years and at least 24 children are orphans. Are you hoping that all die and the problem goes away?
Murray Coombs, an internationally renowned specialist, examined 208 of the workers. He was barely paid from this work and is not anti-nuclear either. In at least eight cases he found that the worker had been exposed to radiation that Coombs believed had caused their diseases. Each of his diagnoses was backed up by the company’s own records he struggled to obtain. He found indications of another 72 occupational diseases that required further tests for 52 workers. Most he believed were caused by exposure to chemicals rather than radiation. But Earthlife ran out of funds and could not finance the tests. Necsa was requested to conduct the additional tests but refused to allow these workers a representative to monitor the process, instead producing their own white-washed report again at great taxpayer expense.
Dr. Coombs’ conclusion is that there will be a significant increase of disease amongst ex-workers which will only show itself over the next 20 years.

Even the scant official records of both NECSA and the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) documents the over-exposure to radiation of workers. And now our children, genetically deformed from radioactive and chemical contamination, are being born out of the Wonderfonteinspruit.

Radiation affects all life, without exception – people, plants and animals are all affected, be it with leukemia, birth defects, mutations, sterility, or many other potential impacts. There is no debate about whether radiation kills, maims, causes mutations, is cumulative, causes leukemia (mainly in children), cancers, respiratory illnesses and attacks the immune system (with children, pregnant women and the elderly being the most vulnerable).

Stop the slander Portia Molefe! Stop the propaganda! Open your doors to some sobering discussion on the issue before you go ahead and help to prop up a seriously flawed industry which has some evil consequences for our embattled nation. We have been begging you to listen.

Yours sincerely

Dominique Gilbert

Monday, October 29, 2007

Second nuclear power station in SA

Second conventional nuclear power station, South Africa

Published: 26 Oct 07 - 0:00

Name and location
Second conventional nuclear power station, South Africa.

Project description
The Eskom board has approved the investigation of up to 20 000 MW of nuclear capacity over the next 20 years, as part of its plans to roll out 40 000 MW of capacity over the same period. The initial phase of the investigation will concentrate on one nuclear power station of about 4 000 MW, with provision being made for future expansion.

The proposed nuclear power station will be of the pressurised water reactor type. The nuclear power plant will in many ways resemble the structure of a conventional thermal power plant; the difference will be in the manner in which heat is produced. In a fossil plant, oil, gas or coal is fired in the boiler, which means that the chemical energy of the fuel is converted into heat. In a nuclear power plant, however, energy from the fission chain reaction is used. Cooling water for the nuclear power station will be used directly from the sea. Although detailed design still needs to be completed, it is estimated that the entire development will require some 31 ha, including all auxiliary infrastructure. The proposed nuclear power station will include a nuclear reactor, a turbine complex, spent fuel, nuclear fuel storage facilities, waste handling facilities, an intake and outfall basin, and various auxiliary services infrastructure.

Reportedly, the project is not part of Eskom's current five-year, R150-billion expansion plan, but will be part of the second phase, expected to start in 2012. A figure for the project has not been confirmed but the upfront capital cost will possibly be as high as R100-billion.

Should the proposed project be authorised, it is estimated that the construction of the nuclear power station could start in 2009/10, with the first unit being commissioned in 2016.

Breakdown of main contracts
Not stated.


Latest developments
Eskom has identified the world's biggest nuclear power firm, Areva, and US-based Westinghouse, as the vendors to build South Africa's first new nuclear power station in more than 20 years, and construction could start as early as in 2010.The plant will be built at one of five possible sites along South Africa's coastline.

Eskom hopes to have a letter of intent signed with the preferred bidder sometime in 2008.

It will then submit an environmental-impact assessment for the plant's construction in 2009, and hopes for a decision from the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism in the same year. Construction for the first unit will then take "at least six years" to complete.

None stated.

Construction materials
Not stated.

On budget and on time?
Too early to state.

Contact details for project information
Eskom, tel +27 11 800 8111.
For information relating to the public-participation process contact Acer (Africa) Environmental Management Consultants, Bongi Shinga or June Mottram,
tel 086 010 4958, fax 035 340 2232 or email

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Concerns Mount Over Nuclear Energy After Series of Scares

Concerns Mount Over Nuclear Energy After Series of Scares

Sceptics say recent errors highlight the drawbacks of nuclear energy

Irregularities at nuclear reactors in Germany and Japan in recent weeks have rekindled safety fears and raised tough questions about nuclear energy amid increasing environmental concerns.

The nuclear plant at Brunsbüttel in the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein is now the world's safest. It's not surprising considering the reactor was shut down following a technical irregularity earlier this month.

The problem at Brunsbüttel, one of 17 nuclear reactors in Germany, is by no means the only mishap in recent months that has increasingly called the safety of atomic power into question.

Earlier this month, an earthquake caused leaks at a reactor in northwestern Japan and led to low-level radiation, reviving fears about nuclear safety, and the closure of the Brunsbüttel plant in Germany followed a fire at another reactor close to Hamburg.

Around the world, there are 438 nuclear plants currently in operation. The majority are in industrialized nations -- 104 in the US, 59 in France and 31 in Russia.

How dangerous were the incidents?

Despite the recent slew of incidents at nuclear power stations, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said the errors in Germany, Sweden and Japan were exceptions and certainly did not pose a danger.

That's a view echoed by Klaus Kotthoff of the GRS group, an independent nuclear assessment and research organization.

While there is no technology that's free of errors, Kotthoff pointed out that nuclear power plants are subject to a range of registration procedures and measures aimed at managing irregularities -- as was the case at two nuclear plants in Germany earlier this month.

A fire broke out last month at the Krümmel nuclear plant near Hamburg in Germany

"I believe these incidents were not noteworthy from a technical security point of view," Kotthoff said.
Critics of nuclear energy, however, don't buy the argument. Henrik Paulitz of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) said the recent German incidents were dangerous.

"The reactor protection system was activated. That only happens in serious cases," Paulitz said, adding that they weren't isolated cases.
There are several nuclear incidents in Germany about which the public is not sufficiently informed, he said. The information that is released is mostly "incomprehensible" and the controversial backgrounds are often concealed.

"Serious security deficits are usually glossed over," Paulitz said.

Experts split over nuclear safety

Experts remain divided about the safety of nuclear reactors.

While Kotthoff said German plants are generally considered the safest, a 1997 study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ranked the German nuclear power station Biblis B second to last in an international nuclear power plant comparison. Only the Maine Yankee plant in the US fared worse, and it's since been shut down.

But Paulitz said other nuclear power stations too aren't much better.

Bildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: Germany is again debating whether to stick to a nuclear energy phase out"An unfortunate mixture of technical problems and human error can at any time cause a major nuclear meltdown anywhere," he said.

The recent string of incidents comes at a time when nuclear energy seems to be undergoing somewhat of a revival. Considered one of the most cost-effective forms of generating electricity as prices of oil and gas rise, nuclear energy is largely favored by rapidly expanding economies in eastern Europe and Asia to meet their spiraling energy needs.

"The debates about climate change and reducing emissions also play a role here," said Alan McDonald of the IAEA. "And naturally, it's about securing production."

Nuclear energy plagued by problems

Nuclear energy production, however, remains problematic as most countries using nuclear energy need to import uranium. According to the IAEA, there are only 4.7 tons of economically viable uranium reserves worldwide. Given current levels of usage, experts believe stocks will only last for another 60 years. That would mean that uranium would be depleted faster than oil and gas reserves.

Experts also pointed to the unsolved problem of disposing nuclear waste, which remains radioactive for decades.

Experts estimate that uranium stocks will only last another 60 years

Paulitz said the environmental advantages of using nuclear energy are also limited since it only provides an estimated 1.2 percent of the world's energy needs. For nuclear energy to make a real difference in cutting greenhouse gas emissions, thousands of new reactors would have to be built, he said. That is hardly possible given the nuclear industry's low production capacity.

"It's only about sustaining energy production on this low level and maintaining the technology -- also because of interest in nuclear weapons," Paulitz said, adding that the world could easily do without this marginal energy source.

Security poses biggest hurdle

IAEA's Mcdonald said that security issues increasingly pose the biggest hurdle when it comes to using nuclear energy. The Vienna-based nuclear watchdog has set up an entire department to explore ways of preventing the misuse of nuclear materials and terrorist attacks on reactors.
"Terrorists who plant to blow up a nuclear reactor can do so with relatively easy means," Paulitz said. "Protecting against such attacks is just not possible."

Lights on now, but a million years of disposal problems

Lights on now, but a million years of disposal problems

The role nuclear energy can and will play in a carbon constrained future is being hotly debated – particularly by socially responsible investors.

Nuclear power is routinely excluded from socially responsible investment fund portfolios, along with other often-maligned industries including tobacco, alcohol and mining.

But with demand for energy growing, oil prices climbing and concerns about climate change on the rise, some argue it is time to include nuclear power in the responsible energy equation.

Calvert, a leading US socially responsible investor, is one fund thought to be reconsidering its stance on nuclear power. Managers polled shareholders for input in December, although to date the group still screens against companies involved in nuclear technology.

Mainstream investors have for years invested in nuclear energy, sometimes for environmental reasons. Bill Page, vice-president of asset managers State Street Global Advisors, believes nuclear should be part of the future “energy pie” because it can help avert climate change.

Nuclear fission, proponents point out, produces no greenhouse gas. The technology is gathering support from some environmentalists, including Patrick Moore, a founding Greenpeace ecologist who once campaigned against nuclear energy.

Expensive and dangerous

Nuclear power’s detractors, however, argue it is too expensive and riddled with environmental drawbacks, including high water usage and radioactive waste disposal issues.

A recent report from a coalition of socially responsible investors and environmental organisations, including Friends of the Earth, Public Citizen and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), concludes that new nuclear power plants cannot be cost-competitive with other electricity generation alternatives. The groups also raise concern over mechanisms for the disposal of spent nuclear waste and a finite supply of fuel grade uranium.

ICCR programme director Leslie Lowe says the environmental and safety risks associated with nuclear power are still too great. She is concerned the industry is too reliant on government subsidies to be a viable energy alternative.

“Investors focusing on actual market behaviour must conclude that nuclear power is not preferred,” the coalition report concludes. A similar report by Canada’s Ethical Funds agrees.

Nuclear energy will always be an explosive topic for socially responsible investment funds, whose clients are often the baby-boomer veterans of disarmament campaigns of the 1960s.

Marc Gunther, who writes about the impact of business on society, says that while he admires funds’ shareholder advocacy work, “by modifying or eliminating its screens, the SRI industry could shed its hippy image and expand its appeal to more mainstream investors”.

For now, however, most ethical funds seem tied to their “hippy roots” when it comes to nuclear power – with or without the threat of global warming.

Useful links:
» Debate: Nuclear power: The clean-air option
» Debate: Nuclear power: Not needed, not wanted
» Climate change - Nuclear confusion: help or hindrance?

Half price subscriptions to Ethical Corporation magazine are available here.
Want to read about business and climate change? Then visit for free news, analysis and newsletters
Write to Lisa Roner, North America Editor at

Monday, October 15, 2007

Erwin forging stronger links with pro-nuke France

Speech by Minister Alec Erwin at the France-South Africa Chamber of Commerce and Industry luncheon, Johannesburg Country Club
25 September 2007

Thank you for the opportunity to speak at this luncheon.
France is one of South Africa's most important trading partners, and it is important for us to keep engaging on issues of mutual interest, and improve economic and trade relations between the two countries.
Europe remains the biggest source of trade for South Africa. Seven out of ten countries trading with South Africa are based in the European Union (EU), and we have seen a steady increase in bilateral relations between France and South Africa over the years. France ranks among South Africa's ten most significant economic partners in terms of trade, investment, development assistance and research and development, and has over 100 companies operating in the country, including multinationals such as Total and Lafarge.

French construction companies are also involved in the building of the stations and railway line for the Gautrain Rapid Rail Link. Bilateral trade has more than doubled over the past eight years, to R25 billion in 2006. This comprised of R8,2 billion in South African exports, and R17 billion in imports from France. We need to work harder to facilitate an increase in South African exports, and thus help support local manufacturing sectors. It is envisaged that the South Africa-European Union Trade, Development and Co-operation Agreement (SA-EU TDCA), which was concluded in 1999, will be one of the approaches which are instrumental in helping to promote local exports.
The France-South Africa Chamber of Commerce and Industry has been instrumental in providing support for South African companies wishing to set up business links in France, and this kind of assistance goes a long way in aiding local firms to increase their global footprint. Developing the country's manufacturing sector, which is the economy's second-largest, and making it more globally competitive, will give local firms a fair chance of competing with their international peers, and alleviate the pressure that a large trade deficit has on the economy.

Over the next few years government is embarking on an ambitious infrastructure investment programme (nuclear!!), which will position South Africa as an investment destination of choice, and aims to step up economic growth, which will be shared by all South Africans, through increased development and employment. This is no minor task, and requires of us an unwavering confidence in this economy, and the courage to take these daring, and sometimes even unpopular steps, to ensure that South Africa's economy is geared towards higher and more sustainable levels of growth.

The Department of Public Enterprises is responsible for about R170 billion in state-owned assets, with two of our biggest State-Owned Enterprises (SOE), Transnet and Eskom, investing approximately R240 billion in the economy over the next five years to upgrade rail, ports and pipelines as well as to ensure security of supply of energy, which is in short supply globally. France has made great advances in the generation of nuclear energy, with over 70% of its energy derived from this source, up from 8% in the 1970s, making France one of the cleanest energy producers in the world. South Africa currently derives only about six percent of its energy from nuclear, and we would like to increase this significantly in coming years.

Eskom's reserve margin, at about eight percent, remains low, and the build programme will, among other things, help us bring this figure closer to the internationally accepted level of 15%. The Competitive Supplier Development Programme, the impact of the Build Programme on the South African economy is expected to be huge, and it is important that we leverage this expenditure to develop the local supplier industry.

The programme, developed by the Department of Public Enterprises, aims to reduce the import content of infrastructure investment programmes by creating an enabling environment for the development of local suppliers who can compete with global competitors. The programme targets business sectors related to the infrastructure investment programmes of Transnet and Eskom. This includes rail, ports, pipelines electricity generation, transmission and distribution.

Transnet, Eskom and PBMR are now all participating in the programme. They are all in the process of developing their Supplier Development Plans (SDPs). Transnet and Eskom's plans will be completed by February 2008, and PBMR's by June 2008. The SDPs will provide a long-term strategic vision for the development of the local supply base of the SOE. In the meantime, the SOE are seeking opportunities for securing competitive local supply in their current procurement processes. This includes requesting Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) to provide information on local content in their tender submissions, and using local content as a criterion in the tender adjudication process.
The response from global suppliers has been positive (?), and we envisage that these procurement negotiations will result in significant foreign direct investments in South Africa, and the integration of South African suppliers into the global supply networks of international companies. The government has programmes in place to assist marginal South African suppliers to improve their capacity to participate in the supply networks of the international companies, and government agencies can assist international companies to identify local suppliers.

Empowering our youth is also a task that is close to our hearts. Developing skilled workers, trained in maths and science, is key for South Africa's advancement globally. Through initiatives such as the Denel Youth Foundation, learners are offered a second chance to improve their marks in the critical areas of maths and science. This will open up to them career opportunities in the fields of science, engineering and technology, where the country is currently experiencing a shortage of skills.

The only way we can ensure that South Africa has the necessary skills to take this country forward, is if we are willing to invest in their education and training. I therefore urge all of you here today to look at the companies you work for, and see how you can further the skills and training of your workers, so that they are better able to contribute to economic growth and development in our beautiful country.

Thank you to the France-South Africa Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FSACCI) for their hard work in helping to improve relations between France and South Africa. It is through efforts made by organisations such as yours that we can get closer to our goals of making the South African economy more competitive globally, and improving the lives of our people.

Thank you
Issued by: Department of Public Enterprises
25 September 2007
Source: Department of Public Enterprise (

Friday, October 12, 2007

DEADLINE: Public Comment- Nuclear Energy Policy (Deadline 17 October 2007)

Public Comment: Nuclear Energy Policy & Strategy for the Republic of South Africa


The Department of Minerals and Energy has invited the public to make written submissions on the Nuclear Energy Policy and Strategy.


Deadline: 17 October 2007


For Attention: The Director-General, Mr T Maqubela

Postal Address:  Private Bag X59, Pretoria, 0001

Or Fax:              012 322 8570



The document is available at HERE, HERE or HERE (PDF – Adobe Acrobat Format)

Contact Person:

Mr T Maqubela 012 317 8340

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Mining vs Environment - The Battle is ON

High Stakes in the Battle Between Mining and the Environment
30 September 2007

Steven Lang

Environmentalists and tour operators appear to be losing the battle against mining companies in Mpumalanga, a province in the east of South Africa.

This confrontation - which also pits two ministries against each other - will determine the future of hundreds of lakes and rivers, and has implications for the economic sustainability of the province.

All parties in the long running dispute argue that they are working towards the economic development of the province in general, and of the Mpumalanga Lake District in particular. They differ fundamentally, however, over methods of achieving this goal and over the long term sustainability of their respective plans.

At a symposium held in the Lake District at the end of August, the premier of Mpumalanga, Thabang Makwetla, neatly described the problem: "One of the challenges facing any developing nation is maintaining a delicate balance between the pressures of economic development for job creation on the one hand, and sustainable environmental management on the other."

Mining companies and the national Department of Minerals and Energy (DME) say they will create jobs in an area where unemployment is a serious social problem. They argue that new coal mines will provide jobs not only in mining itself, but also in re-commissioned power stations and in the construction of new railway sidings.

South Africa's national power utility, Eskom, approved a budget of over 700 million dollars in 2004 to re-commission the coal-fired Camden power station near Ermelo, about 240 kilometres east of South Africa's financial hub, Johannesburg. Camden was completed in 1969 and then mothballed 20 years later while the country was experiencing a period of surplus capacity.

As the re-commissioning process began, Ermelo had already started dragging itself out of a 15-year slump. Today the town, strategically located close to the Mpumalanga Lake District and the Umlabu coal mine, is experiencing unprecedented growth.

The Mpumalanga Lake District has more than 270 fresh water lakes, including Lake Chrissie, the country's largest natural body of freshwater. It is also part of the eastern escarpment where four river catchment areas meet: the Vaal, Komati, uMpuluzi and the Usutu.

"Water found in the natural springs around Chrissie Lake is of drinking water quality. It could be bottled and sold," said Jennifer Russell, a University of Johannesburg student doing her master's degree thesis on the water quality of the area. "Mining would therefore pollute all of these pure water sources and we would never be able to get that back," she told IPS.

An informal grouping of conservationists, scientists and travel companies opposes the large scale increase in mining operations because over the long term the mines will pollute groundwater, lakes and rivers in the area. They argue that short term gains from mining will be lost when the mines run out of coal and the pristine environment has lost its tourism potential.

"Mining in this area is not sustainable. The life of a mine would probably be between five to 10 years, leaving a lifetime of environmental problems," said Russell.

Coal mining is particularly destructive to groundwater and lakes in the area. In many cases, the true extent of the environmental damage is only discovered after mining operations have ceased.

When mining takes place below the water table, the mining company is forced to pump water out of the ground in order to continue with operations. When the mine is depleted, pumping ceases and water floods into the empty caverns and pits.

Water then chemically reacts with metal sulphides exposed during the mining operation to produce sulphuric acid. The empty mine rapidly becomes a toxic bath of acid that soon decants out into the groundwater, rivers and lakes of the area.

This well-known phenomenon, described in scientific literature as Acid Mine Drainage (AMD), has been extensively studied in North America. Many incidents of AMD have already been recorded in parts of Mpumalanga, most notably where the Wilge River flows into Loskop Dam.

Louis Marneweck, a member of the provincial legislature of Mpumalanga, said in a letter of concern to the provincial government that "Loskop Dam is also experiencing problems and thousands of fish and crocodiles have died due to sewerage inflow and toxic mine water."

Noted Russell, "The most effective remediation for AMD is the use of wetlands, either natural or constructed. The wetlands act as a filter and are able to remove many of the heavy metals by causing them to precipitate out of the water."

Mining operations will, however, destroy a substantial part of the wetlands in the province. "A total of 584 hectares of these wetlands will be destroyed due to the impact of open cast mining," said Anton Linström of the Mpumalanga Parks Board.

In the Lake District, mining poses an additional threat to the environment because some of the mines will be opencast operations less than 500 metres from the shores of certain lakes. Miners will have to blast through a layer of sandstone in order to get to the coal seam. This sandstone layer performs the function of filtering surface water before it gets to the lakes.

Even the most determined environmental rehabilitation programme will not be able to repair the sandstone. Open cast mines near the lakes will permanently destroy an important surface-water filter.

The DME has assessed more than 300 mining licence applications for the province in the last year. Most of the licences will be granted to small operators and speculators, but some large commercial miners with more than enough resources to exploit the mines will also receive new licences.

The Department of Environment and Tourism is unable to oppose the granting of licences effectively because the DME has the authority to grant licences based on its own environmental impact studies.

The DME did not respond to several requests for comment on issues raised in this article.

Royal Bafokeng Holdings, the controlling shareholder of the Umlabu open cast coal mine near Ermelo, also did not respond to requests for information. However one of the paragraphs of the company's Code of Ethics says that, "Respecting and protecting the environment is an important value to which RBH subscribes."


Monday, September 24, 2007

No to nuclear energy

No to nuclear energy

While plans are being made for building more nuclear reactors in South Africa, on the other side of the coin are groups such as Earthyear Africa which are actively campaigning against their development. 

Earthlife Africa has published a 36 page factsheet on nuclear energy in South Africa. Titled: What you need to know about South Africa's nuclear programme, the document is part of the Nuclear Energy Costs The Earth Campaign. In it they they provide an overview of nuclear energy, its efects on humans, plants and animals, climate change and tourism, seeking to gain support in declaring South Africa a nuclear free zone. They question who actually stands to gain financially from the PBMR given that the partners are international, even suggesting that South Africa is being used as a "guinea pig" for testing the PBMR. Below follows a short insert from the document providing some background to their arguments.

Eskom wishes to build more nuclear reactors, based on a full scale model that has been tried and abandoned in the North. These reactors are called Pebble Bed Modular Reactors (PBMRs). The first is planned for Koeberg, near Cape Town. The proposal is that the fuel for these PBMRs be produced at Pelindaba.

In addition there are fourteen thousand tons of radioactive weapons scrap metal at Pelindaba from decommissioned nuclear facilities. NECSA (Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa) wishes to smelt this waste and sell the metal on the open market, followed by commercialisation of the smelter process - this process is not international best practice, and could turn South Africa into the North's radioactive waste dumping ground.

The proposed reactors, radioactive fuel plant, and the proposed radioactive waste smelter, will emit many kilograms of radioactive emissions into the air, water and soil every year. Pelindaba is located within two kilometres of a World Heritage Site, The Cradle of Humankind, and ten kilometres from the townships of Atteridgeville and Diepsloot.

At full production, for all the planned reactors, there would be nine trucks carrying nuclear material, and 145 trucks carrying chemicals every day between Durban, Pelindaba and Koeberg for forty years!

There is no doubt that radiation is harmful. Furthermore, the level of what is considered a "safe" dose has been lowered consistently, and now stands at a few percent of what was originally considered a "safe dose".

One of the arguments for the PBMR is that South Africa will need massive amounts of new power. This will not be true for at least ten years. In this time, we will be able to install all of South Africa's power requirements using safe and clean Renewable Energy Technologies, which are available off the shelf, and can be installed within weeks.

Further, the planned ten nuclear reactors for South Africa in the near future will generate less than 2.5% of our current electricity generation capacity, but with hazardous consequences for hundreds of thousands of years.

Safe, clean, and sustainable alternatives exist, which are proving far more viable, from an economic and health, safety and environmental point of view.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Flogging Nuclear Energy to the African Continent



If nuclear power is okay for South Africa, what about Zimbabwe? Or how about Rwanda, or Sierra Leone? If we are concerned about South Africa's ability to provide safe transport for nuclear fuel and waste, risks of sabotage and smuggling of nuclear materials - what about nations in Africa that have been torn by civil war? What about a neighbouring nation like Zimbabwe where inflation is now at 7000%? South Africans may not be aware that despite poverty and starvation, Zimbabwe is somehow still considering the hugely expensive option of nuclear power. How comfortable do South Africans feel about President Mugabe sitting with a potential finger on the nuclear button? 


The nuclear industry's multi-million dollar marketing programme (courtesy of the taxpayer) is making security in Africa about as predictable as a game of roulette. Spin the nuclear wheel of fortune and the dial could point to any one of a number of African countries, where despite a majority of impoverished people, certain governments have still managed to spend millions on weaponry.


Countries in Africa currently prospecting for uranium, include: Algeria, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Gabon, Guinea, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Senegal, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and of course, Zimbabwe.


In Harare Zimbabwe's Minister of Energy Michael Nyambuya said nuclear energy was an option, although Zimbabwe still had to verify uranium deposits. The company responsible for prospecting uranium in Zimbabwe is Omegacorp Ltd.

However, the same names pop up in each country - like Uramin, Brinkley Mining, Paladin and Areva. And while the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa (Necsa) has gone out of its way to reassure South Africans that an expanded nuclear programme in this country would be "safe", there is no way that they can make any guarantees concerning other nations. Despite this, Necsa and the fabled Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) project intend - not only to manufacture nuclear reactors for South Africa - but also to export to the rest of Africa.


What about the Congo? This country's uranium mines produced material for the nuclear bombs the US dropped on Japan in World War II. They were officially closed since 2000, but illegal mining continued. Negotiations between the Congo and Brinkley Mining ground to a halt when the government official who set up the deal was imprisoned on charges of illegally selling uranium.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is suspected of trying to reopen the Shinkolobwe uranium mine with help from North Korea. (In 2000, North Korea denied reports that it might be importing uranium from Congo to manufacture nuclear weapons).

In Malawi, five Non-Governmental Organisations oppose uranium mining. They are extremely concerned about Malawi's natural heritage including treasures such as Sere Stream, Rukuru River and Lake Malawi. "This is an ecological disaster in waiting," they said. They were aware of the detrimental impact uranium mining would have on the health of workers and nearby communities, radioactive mine wastes, environmental damage and water contamination.


In Niger, the uranium mining industry has been plagued by violence. In April 2007, heavily-armed men attacked a camp of uranium prospectors in northern Niger, killing a security guard and wounding three other people. Between 20-30 men from the Niger Movement for Justice raided French nuclear company Areva's camp. A Chinese employee from a uranium mining company was captured on July 6, 2007, by the same group. 


Despite this, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has directed his energy ministry to establish a nuclear unit and in Zambia, Albidon Ltd and African Energy Resources Ltd have begun feasibility studies for uranium mining. The Omega Corporation wants to open up a uranium mine in Siavonga with an investment of 60 million US dollars and Equinox Minerals Ltd is considering extracting uranium from Lumwana in Zambia.


In South Africa, Uramin Inc wants to expand into the Beaufort West area of the Karoo and produce 1745 tonnes of uranium oxide per year. Interestingly, an American comapny - SRK Consulting - was to conduct the feasibility study. 

The Department of Minerals and Energy (DME) granted Uranium One a new order mining right for the Dominion Uranium Project for 30 years covering an area of 14 000 hectares. First Uranium intends to produce 342 tonnes of uranium annually. This year, Uranium One produced ammonium diuranate (ADU) at Dominion Reefs Uranium Mine near Klerksdorp. This was shipped to the Nuclear Fuels Corporation of South Africa (Nufcor SA) to be processed into U3O8 (yellow cake) in Nufcor's calcining plant.


Just as there is no smoke without a fire, so there is no nuclear without the uranium fuel. Unfortunately, the nuclear industry has been selling nuclear as a "sustainable" energy source, which it obviously is not. In fact uranium reserves will be depleted before coal reserves run out and the nuclear industry is even asking for coal to power its nuclear smelter at Pelindaba.


The nuclear industry has also been marketing itself as "safe" which again has proven to be a false claim. South Africa has one nuclear reactor at Koeberg and yet at least three men have been caught and stood trial for smuggling nuclear materials. If, as the South African government intends, the nuclear programme in this country expands to include 30 nuclear reactors for South Africa and others marketed to Africa, how much illegal nuclear trade will go on?


The construction of "dirty bombs" and international terrorism is only one of the deadly faces of the nuclear industry. Wherever uranium mines are sited, radioactive contamination spreads to soils and water sources and the dust is blown by the wind into the homes of nearby communities. Primary cancers are recognized as a health hazard of uranium mining and the inhalation of uranium dust is second only to tobacco smoking for producing lung cancers.


From the cradle to the grave, the nuclear process is deadly. And for Africa - regarded as the cradle of life - this would seem to be the final desecration of a once beautiful and fertile continent.


Yours sincerely



Thursday, September 20, 2007

Vodacom -Diallog Group


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Experts will decide on nuclear information

Experts will decide on nuclear information 

06 September 2007

Two expert referees will decide what information should be released to the public about Eskom’s nuclear Pebble Bed Modular Reactor development, the Supreme Court of Appeal held.

Judge-President Craig Howie made an agreement between Eskom and Earthlife Africa (ELA) on how a request for information over South Africa’s nuclear energy programme must be handled an order of the court.

Representing ELA, Open Democracy Advice Centre spokeswoman Alison Tilley said Eskom’s records on the development would now be referred to expert referees.

“They are going to look at the records and read them and make a decision around whether it should be released or not.”

The referees will compile a report on what could be released as public interest, which would be handed to a court.

If no party challenged the findings of the referees’ report it would be final and information as recommended would be made public.

The ELA appealed a high court judgment which denied it access to Eskom’s board meeting minutes about the development of a Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) demonstration model at Koeberg.

The environmental lobby group launched an application in 2005 for information under the Access to Information Act. The high court ruled against them.

Tilley said the benefit of the Bloemfontein court’s finding was that ELA would now know exactly what documents there were and what they contained.

She said a better decision could now be made on what information must be public knowledge. “Up to now we did not know what documents there were.”

ELA Cape Town campaign coordinator Maya Aberman, who attended the hearing, said she was pleased with the finding.

“Today’s judgment moved us closer towards accessing the information we try to have. We welcome that step closer.”




Monday, September 17, 2007

The nuclear credit card



Some people may remember the heady feeling of power when aquiring their first credit card. There is the shiny piece of plastic with the power to buy anything you want. It doesn't look or feel like money so it doesn't hit so hard when you hand it over. So people buy and buy and buy with the virtual money they don't actually have.


The nuclear industry has been marketing its product along similar appealing lines. Nuclear energy just won't run out according to its marketers - some ministers in South Africa have even called it "sustainable". This would be laughable if it were not so deadly serious. The uranium that fuels nuclear reactors will run out before coal reserves do - and ironically, the nuclear industry is now also demanding a share of that coal to power its nuclear smelter at Pelindaba.


Nuclear propaganda has even spread to schools, where children are taught that nuclear energy is "safe", "green" and "sustainable". But just like the infamous credit card, the nuclear industry is already spending millions of government/taxpayers' money on the premise that it will recoup this money - one day.


However, as all credit card holders know, that final day of payment arrives sooner than you think or want - with plenty of interest added onto those loans. Those days of carefree spending come to an end when you have to tally up your repayments, plus interest for borrowing from the bank. This is again where the nuclear industry hides some nasty surprises, because when bank loans on construction of nuclear plants are called in, interest payments can cripple third world nations that just cannot afford this expensive form of energy.


During the cold war, when Russia and the US built up nuclear munitions as fast as they could in deadly competition, President Reagan was asked who he thought would "go bust" first. Well, it turned out to be Russia; a country paying so much for nuclear weapons that in the end it could not afford food or basic consumer goods for its people. The nuclear arms race truly crippled the might of the former Soviet Union.


Nations in Africa might heed this warning. How can a country pay millions for weapons when it cannot afford to feed its people? Signing all those cheques or handing over the nuclear credit card may seem very appealing initially - but the account will be called in - sooner rather than later. And the national debt will skyrocket.


More progressive nations have come to realise that truly "sustainable" energy sources are to be found in renewables like solar and wind power. It is just unfortunate that in South Africa, these have not received the same kind of advertising or government investment as nuclear has been lucky enough to enjoy.


Yours sincerely




South Africa 



Money spent on nuclear weapons in the US from 1940 to 1996 "exceeded the combined total federal spending for education; training, employment, and social services; agriculture; natural resources and the environment; general science, space, and technology; community and regional development (including disaster relief); law enforcement; and energy production and regulation. On average, the United States has spent $98 billion a year on nuclear weapons. Where did all this money go?"

This crucial question was asked in a report on "The Hidden Costs of Our Nuclear Arsenal" by Stephen I. Schwartz, June 30, 1998.
Schwartz showed that from 1940 to 1996 the US spent nearly $5.5 trillion on nuclear weapons and weapons-related programs. The government never tried to track all nuclear weapons costs either annually or over time and as a result records were "extremely spotty and in numerous instances non-existent".

The army discovered that nuclear weapons, far from being cost-efficient killing machines, were in fact immensely expensive. One nuclear weapon could kill or injure hundreds or thousands of troops at a time, so large numbers of reserve forces would be necessary to maintain the advantage. Large numbers of wounded would require an expanded medical corps.

From 1948 to 1996, the United States spent $165.5 billion manufacturing plutonium, highly-enriched uranium, tritium, and other materials necessary to make nuclear explosives. So much highly-enriched uranium was produced that the United States halted production in 1964 having achieved a huge surplus.

The Department of Energy proposed to spend at a least $4.5 billion a year on "stockpile stewardship" to maintain the nuclear stockpile for the future. This would be more than was spent on average over the entire Cold War (1948-1991), $3.6 billion, when hundreds to thousands of new warheads were being built annually and nuclear testing was common.

From 1945 the United States conducted more nuclear tests than all other nuclear powers combined. A great deal of uncertainty remains about how many weapons the USSR actually produced. The arsenals of Great Britain, France and China are only a fraction of the superpowers' arsenals.

The bomb that destroyed Hiroshima exploded with a force of 15,000 tons of TNT or 15 kilotons. In 1960 the US had the equivalent of nearly 1.4 million Hiroshima-sized bombs. In 1998 the US had the equivalent of 120,000 to 130,000 Hiroshima-sized bombs.

In the spring of 1958, after the Army proposed deploying the Nike Zeus missile to shoot down incoming Soviet warheads, then-Secretary of Defense Neil McElroy said, "We should not spend hundreds of millions on production of this weapon pending general confirmatory indications that we know what we are doing."

This warning still resonates today, as proposed defensive systems fail test after test.

The large, daunting "cleanup" program is because so little money was spent on this in the past. Since government placed production of nuclear weapons and weapons materials ahead of everything else, the US faces a bill of as much as several hundred billion dollars for a program stretching to 2070 and beyond to rectify past wrongs.
Most of the money in the "cleanup" budget goes toward managing existing wastes. The cost of cleaning up nuclear weapons facilities will come close to or equal the cost of producing the weapons in the first place.

The strict secrecy surrounding these programs increases the potential for officials to place production first, cut corners, look only at short-term gains and ignore real and dangerous long-term costs to the environment, and public health.

In 1998, the US was spending $35 billion to operate and maintain its nuclear force, address the legacies of the Cold War - nuclear waste "cleanup" and victims of radiation exposure from nuclear weapons - and enact and enforce arms control agreements and try to develop missile defenses.

When Admiral Arleigh Burke, Chief of Naval Operations, stated that the equivalent of 720 warheads on Polaris submarines would be enough to deter the Soviet Union, the United States already had almost six times as many deployed.

When retired Army Chief of Staff General Maxwell Taylor wrote that "a few hundred missiles" would satisfy deterrence, the United States already had 7,000 strategic nuclear weapons.

And when Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara argued that within a few years the equivalent of 400 megatons would be enough to achieve destruction and hence deterrence, the U.S. stockpile had almost 17,000 megatons.

There has always been a tremendous gap between what informed military and civilian leaders thought necessary for deterrence and what was actually deployed.

Hundreds of billions of dollars were expended on programs which contributed little or nothing to deterrence, diverted critical resources and effort away from those that did or created long-term costs that exceeded their benefits.

The costs of nuclear weapons, have never been fully understood nor compiled by the government. Congress has only taken action to terminate nuclear weapons programs a handful of times and has never held a hearing, debate or vote on the cost, scale, pace or implications of the overall program even though the potential for waste, fraud and abuse is equal to that for entitlement programs, as indicated by the approximately equal share of spending for each.
With nuclear weapons still consuming a sizable percentage of the military budget, it is vital to understand how the figures in the plan were derived.

The annual congressional debate usually focuses on the minute details of a few programs at a the expense of the overall effort those programs are supposed to support. This approach can be likened to building a house by carefully examining the cost of only a few of the obvious elements, largely ignoring the rest, and rarely pausing to consider what the house will actually cost or look like, or if it will even meet one's needs.

The time has come to consider carefully the costs and consequences to the United States, and the world, of producing tens of thousands of nuclear weapons and basing national security on the threat of nuclear annihilation.

We cannot rectify our mistakes or build on our achievements if such a crucial part of our nuclear history remains incomplete. Neither can we hope to prevent other countries from acquiring nuclear weapons if we do not fully comprehend the forces that have driven our own program and affect it still.

Given the enormous sums expended and the substantial risks incurred, we owe it to ourselves and future generations to seek answers to these questions, to fill the gaps in the atomic ledger.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Eskom is blowing in the wind !!!

The following article describes how Eskom will only (maybe) start construction next year of a 100 MW wind power plant but it will only (maybe) be operational by 2010. The Eskom expert then says we only have a potential of 1000 MW wind producing power along the Cape coast which is questionable. What is most disconcerting is that in other countries, they assemble massive wind power generators in a few months and countries like Germany produce over 20,000 MW from Wind power. Why will it take Eskom over 2 years just to knock out 100 MW of Wind Power? Clearly Eskom still does not want to commit to renewable energies and prefers instead to stick to their hard line, hard headed approach of multiple nuclear power stations. According to another source less than 1% of Eskom’s budget is allocated to renewable energies. They also like to continually claim that the cost of producing power from wind is still too high and this is what’s restricting its growth as an energy source, but it is okay to spend upwards of R400 Billion of taxpayers’ money on Nuclear power stations, that’s not too expensive is it?

Eskom may start building pilot 100-MW wind farm next year

Published: 12 Sep 07 - 10:33

Matthew Hill & Mariaan Olivier

State power utility Eskom could start building a 100-MW wind power plant, on the West Coast of South Africa, as early as mid-2008, to be operational by the beginning of 2010, a company spokesperson said on Wednesday.

Eskom communications project manager for new build Annamarie Murray said that the firm was expecting a record of decision from the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism by the middle of next year, after which construction on the plant, to be built opposite Koekenaap, would start.

The 100-MW plant would have the scope to be enlarged, but she said that Eskom was more likely to first investigate other sites.

Resources and strategy GM Greg Tosen said that Eskom believed South Africa had a resource base of 1 000 MW for wind-power generation along the country’s coastal regions.

It is already operating a much smaller plant than the planned 100-MW operation, but Tosen said that the new one would serve as a pilot project for future projects on the same scale.

Eskom had already built three wind turbines at an experimental wind energy farm at Klipheuwel, on the West Coast near Cape Town.

In July, Eskom called for expressions of interest from wind turbine makers with experience in the design, construction, commissioning and maintenance support of mainstream turbines.

The company was looking for suppliers to supply turbines between 1,5 MW and 2,5 MW. It was understood that it would be mainly foreign suppliers that would be able to supply the turbines.

Eskom embarked on an active programme investigating possible renewable energy options with plans to boost its power generation from these sources to 1 500 MW.

Tosen said that the company’s primary focus was on solar water heating.

The firm was currently involved in a feasibility study on concentrating solar power.

Renewable power generation would mainly be used for peaking power requirements, and coal would clearly be a “dominant force” in Eskom’s future, he said.

It also had plans to generate 20 000 MW from nuclear plants by 2025, as part of plans to double generating capacity to 80 000 MW by the same time.

Environmentalists view wind power as a renewable and clean technology to generate power, but the high cost of generating electricity by using wind technology was still standing in the way of the technology being used on a larger scale.

Murray said that it was, in general, hard to make a direct comparison between the cost of power generated from wind technology, and electricity generated by other renewable energy sources.

“The cost of the various renewable energy options vary according to the available resource and other site specific requirements, such as the distance to electrical infrastructure, roads, etcetera,” she commented.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Sure, nuclear power is safer than in the past - but we still don't need it

Sure, nuclear power is safer than in the past - but we still don't need it
It's true that another Chernobyl couldn't happen in a new reactor, but the case against is as strong as ever

George Monbiot
Tuesday July 11, 2006
The Guardian

If someone had worked out how to cause a war within the environment movement, they could not have developed a better means than nuclear power. In public we will line up to attack the energy review published by the government today. But in private we will reserve some of our venom for each other, as we start to ask ourselves whether we have made the right decision.

The UK's dying nuclear power stations are, at the moment, its principal source of low-carbon energy. Electricity produced by a pressurised light water reactor, when all its carbon costs have been taken into account, emits around 16 tonnes of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour. Gas produces 356 tonnes and coal 891. If our nuclear power stations are replaced by thermal plants, the UK's annual output of CO2 will rise by roughly 51m tonnes, or 8% of the total. Zac Goldsmith, arguing against new nukes, calls this percentage "miniscule". This is breathtaking. We campaign to prevent electrical appliances being left on standby, hoping to save some 4m tonnes of CO2 a year. How can we then dismiss a cut 13 times as great?

Some groups, such as Greenpeace, the New Economics Foundation and the Sustainable Development Commission, have produced reports showing that we can meet the government's target - a 60% cut in carbon emissions by 2050 - without recourse to atomic power. They are right, but the target is now irrelevant. In the book I am publishing in September, I will show that when you take into account both human population growth and the anticipated reduction in the biosphere's ability to absorb carbon, we require a worldwide cut of roughly 60% per capita by 2030. If emissions are to be distributed evenly, this means that the UK's need to be cut by 87% in 24 years.

In seeking the best means by which this cut can be made across all sectors (transport, electricity, heating and construction), I have been forced to set aside my prejudices. I hate nuclear power, but do we need it to help prevent the planet from cooking?

Answering this question means challenging people on both sides of the debate. Anti-nuclear campaigners have a tendency to believe anything that casts the industry in a bad light. Last month's edition of The Ecologist magazine, for example, contends that 14m tonnes of concrete are required to build a nuclear power station, resulting in a massive release of carbon dioxide. Specifications are notoriously hard to come by, but I have managed to find the figures for Calder Hall A, opened in 1956. It used 72,500 cubic yards of concrete, which equates to 108,000 tonnes, or less than 1% of the Ecologist's estimate. Modern power stations are smaller.

We have made similar mistakes over the global supplies of uranium. Noting that the world possesses "assured reserves" of high-grade ores sufficient to last for 40 or 50 years at current rates of use, some environmentalists have argued that if new nuclear plants are built, they will run out of fuel before they reach the end of their lives. But they have confused assured reserves with total global resources. In other words, they have assumed that no further discoveries will ever take place. Forty to 50 years is in fact a very high level of assurance.

There's little doubt that extracting these ores kills. Last month New Scientist reported that the 400,000 uranium miners working in East Germany between 1946 and 1990 were exposed to an increased risk of lung cancer of about 10%. But it didn't say whether this is the case elsewhere, or how it compares to other kinds of mining. One tonne of uranium, according to government figures, produces as much energy as 75,000 tonnes of coal. It is impossible to believe that coal has the lesser impact.

I am forced to admit that an accident like Chernobyl's could not take place in a new nuclear power station. Secondary containment of the reactor core and new safety systems make a total meltdown impossible. Nor do I believe that new reactors would present a useful target for terrorists. It would not be difficult to make the containment buildings strong enough to resist an impact with an airliner.

But there are other arguments that do stand up. The most fundamental environmental principle - one that all children are taught as soon as they are old enough to understand it - is that you don't make a new mess until you have cleared up the old one. To start building a new generation of nuclear power stations before we know what to do with the waste produced by existing plants is grotesquely irresponsible. The government's advisers have determined only that it should be buried. No one yet knows where, how or at what cost.

This is just one of the factors that make a nonsense of the economic projections. How on earth can we say what nuclear power stations will cost if we don't even know what their decommissioning entails? The government will assure us today that there will be no subsidies and no guaranteed prices for the nuclear industry. This should allow us to forget about the cost, and leave the market to determine whether nuclear power stations should be built. But in order to guarantee public safety, the government must be ready to rescue our power stations or their waste piles if the nuclear operators are in danger of going bankrupt. To ensure that the operators don't fudge their figures, the government must make it clear that it is not prepared to rescue them. It is a paradox that cannot be resolved.

And how does any system - political or technological - cope with the timescales involved? If, as a result of slow leakage into the groundwater, radioactive materials from a burial site were to kill an average of only one person a year for one million years, those who made the decision to bury them will - through their infinitesimal and unrecorded impacts - be responsible for the deaths of a million people.

It has also become clear that we will never rid the world of nuclear weapons if we do not also rid it of nuclear power. Every state that has sought to develop a weapons programme over the past 30 years - Israel, South Africa, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Iraq and Iran - has done so by manipulating its nuclear power programme. We cannot deny other states the opportunity to use atomic energy if we do not forswear it ourselves.

But perhaps the strongest argument against nuclear power is that we do not need it, even to reach the extraordinarily ambitious target that the science demands. With similar levels of investment in energy efficiency and carbon capture and storage, and the exploitation of the vast new offshore wind resources the government has now identified, we could cut our carbon emissions as swiftly and as effectively as any atomic power programme could. In North America, where natural gas supplies have already peaked and are in long-term decline, this is a much tougher challenge than in Eurasia; but while our supplies of gas persist we should use them, and bury the carbon dioxide that our power stations produce, while developing the electricity storage systems that will eventually replace them.

Some of our arguments against nuclear power have collapsed, but it seems to me that the case is still robust.


Waste storage dilemma crimps nuclear future

Waste storage dilemma crimps nuclear future

David R. Baker, Chronicle Staff Writer
The San Francisco Chronicle
Jun 11, 2006

Avila Beach, San Luis Obispo County -- In a quiet, air-conditioned room deep inside the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant sits a small pool filled
with water colored an unnatural blue. It's packed with radioactive waste. The pool holds roughly half of all the used fuel ever pulled from the
plant's reactors. The other half sits in a second concrete tank nearby, slowly cooling beneath 25 feet of water. Some fuel rods have been there
about 20 years. Both pools are nearly full. Neither was designed to store this much waste. But there's nowhere else to put it.

The government long ago promised Diablo's owner, Pacific Gas and Electric Co., that it would haul away the waste and entomb it deep below Nevada's
Yucca Mountain. But, in the face of unrelenting opposition from Nevada residents irate over the prospect of becoming a dumping ground for nuclear
waste, the repository never opened.

With the nation's appetite for energy growing, the U.S. nuclear industry appears poised for a renaissance. President Bush has made building nuclear
plants, for the first time in decades, a cornerstone of his energy policies. And some former foes are willing to give the technology another
look, lured by the promise of generating abundant power without belching greenhouse gases from more fossil fuel plants.

But the industry and its supporters in Washington still have not resolved one of the biggest issues that derailed nuclear power in the 1970s and
1980s -- what to do with the waste, which remains radioactive for thousands of years. Yucca Mountain remains bottled up by Nevada

One alternative would be to recycle spent fuel rods, extracting radioactive material for reuse and reducing the amount of waste that would
need to be stored. But the idea has long been blocked by fears that plutonium removed from old rods could fall into the hands of terrorists or
rogue countries trying to build nuclear weapons.

So Diablo and other nuclear plants must keep their waste on-site -- indefinitely. PG&E installed replacement racks that pack more rods into
Diablo's pools and has even started building another storage facility that could cost up to $200 million on a hillside behind the plant.
"The government hasn't lived up to its contracts, so what's happening now is Plan B," said David Vosburg, a PG&E project manager. "The extra racks
are filling up. The same thing's happening across the country."

Extra storage sites next to nuclear plants, however, won't solve the problem. They will just buy time.

"You just have to hope that there's a national solution, because this won't be a Diablo issue -- it will be a national issue," said Richard
Hagler, project engineer for the new storage facility.

Anyone living near a nuclear plant also lives near a long-term storage site for radioactive waste. Those facilities aren't long-term by the
standards of engineers, who must consider what happens to radioactive material over centuries. Homeowners, however, find themselves spending
decades close to used fuel rods, with no end in sight.

"They promised us that the waste would be removed and the government would come to the rescue," said Jack Biesek, 58, who lives in a lushly wooded
canyon about 7 miles downwind of Diablo. "I think it's going to stay there. The handwriting's on the wall."

Without a long-range solution for the waste problem, America's much-heralded "nuclear spring" may never come.

"Obviously, waste storage is the elephant in the room," said Frank Bowman, president and chief executive officer of the Nuclear Energy Institute, the
industry's main lobbying group. America now has roughly 40,000 metric tons of spent radioactive fuel, according to the institute, with another 2,000 metric tons added each
year. Even if Yucca Mountain opens, the nation would soon need another facility just like it. Reprocessing the fuel would relieve that pressure, but it's far from clear that reuse will ever happen.
"If we don't recycle, we're going to have to build a new Yucca Mountain every few decades," said U.S. Deputy Energy Secretary Clay Sell.

Used fuel rods are hot and highly radioactive when they emerge from a reactor. Both the heat and the radioactivity drop substantially within the
first several years, the radiation falling by a factor of 1,000 in a decade, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute. But the rods remain
dangerously radioactive for many thousands of years.

Diablo Canyon has relied on its twin spent-fuel pools to store waste since the plant began commercial operation in 1985.

They sit not far from the towering containment domes that hold Diablo's reactors, separated from the outside world by steel walls and concrete
floors. The plant refuels every 18 to 21 months, plugging some new rods into the reactors and transferring old ones to the storage pools.
Standing 12 feet tall, each rod is a metal tube filled with uranium pellets -- the source of the plant's power. The rods are narrow, about the
width of a fat pencil, and are bundled into assemblies that weigh 1,350 pounds each. Workers maneuver the assemblies into the pools through a
series of water-filled channels to keep the fuel cool, making sure it never touches open air. A crane grabs the assemblies underwater and lowers
them into waiting racks.

Each pool was designed to hold 270 assemblies. Now, the racks have been reconfigured to store 1,324.

One pool already has 1,064. The other, 1,100.

"Five percent of the state's electricity generation for the last 20 years is sitting in that pool," Vosburg said, as a current of circulating water
rippled the surface. The water, surrounded by concrete walls 6 feet thick, dissipates heat coming from the fuel rods and shields the outside world
from radiation. Boric acid, added to the water to absorb neutrons, gives the pool its deep blue tint.

Later this year, PG&E will install temporary racks in both pools to provide 154 more storage slots each. Even so, they will run out of room by
2010. So PG&E, like operators of the nation's 64 other nuclear power plants, is trying to make do.

On a shaved-off hillside overlooking the plant, workers pour the concrete floor for Diablo's next storage facility. Instead of using a pool, PG&E
will seal old fuel assemblies inside 20-foot-tall canisters lined up like squat obelisks on an open field. There will be no walls or ceiling of any
kind -- just the canisters themselves.

The technology is called dry cask storage, and it isn't new. Its use at Diablo, however, has alarmed many of the plant's long-standing opponents.
They fear that the field, which could eventually hold 138 casks, will make an even more alluring target for terrorists than the plant itself, perched
on a rocky stretch of the central California coast. A commandeered jet, they say, could approach Diablo from the water, fly over the plant and
crash into the casks, spewing radioactive material into the air. "How is that safe from terrorism, especially when there's no 'no fly
zone' at the plant?" asked Rochelle Becker of the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility. "California needs to know, how much radioactive waste are
we willing to store on our coast, for how long?"

Last week, a federal court ruled that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission should have examined the possibility of a terrorist assault on Diablo
before giving PG&E permission to build the dry cask facility. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ordered the commission to
study what threat an attack could pose to the local environment. However, a PG&E spokesman said construction will continue during the review, with
the first casks scheduled to be loaded with fuel next fall. The company considers the facility secure.

Standing above the field, PG&E engineer Hagler sketched out possible lines of terrorist attack. Fly a commercial airliner in from the west, over the
ocean, and the hillside would rip off the plane's right wing before it could reach the casks. Approach from the east, and the pilot would have to
hug the contours of several protecting hills before making a swift, steep plunge into the field.

Those obstacles wouldn't matter as much to a small plane. But small aircraft, he said, lack the mass to smash open the steel-and-concrete casks.
"An aircraft that size? It'd be like a bee hitting a windshield," Hagler said. "I know the cask is going to win."

To some neighbors, terrorism isn't the only issue. They object to the possibility that Diablo's waste will never leave, staying decade after
decade on the coast they love until its presence becomes permanent. "This whole area is going to be a carbuncle ruined for millennia," Biesek

Since 1976, he has lived in nearby See Canyon, along a stream shaded by oak and pine trees. He and his wife, Susan, have long opposed the plant.
They keep a Geiger counter in the house, although it needs new batteries. The Bieseks question whether any storage technology can isolate nuclear
waste from the environment forever, particularly in a place prone to earthquakes and other disasters. If radioactive material from Diablo found
its way into an aquifer or the ocean, they said, who knows how widespread the effects could be?

"It's not like this backyard dump is just our dump," Susan Biesek said one recent morning, as birdsong filled the canyon's cool air. "Where do you
move that's safe?" Such talk drives nuclear engineers to distraction. Used nuclear fuel does pose risks, they say, but those risks can be controlled.
"I hate the word 'dump,' " said Mark Somerville, a PG&E physicist specializing in radiation protection. "I sympathize with people who, like
we did, thought there'd be an endgame where things would be handled long term. ... But it's anything but a dump. It's a very carefully controlled

Meanwhile, the Bush administration keeps pushing to open Yucca Mountain and recycle used fuel. Storing waste on-site, Deputy Energy Secretary Sell
said, is safe but won't solve the problem.

"As an interim solution, it's acceptable," he said. "As a long-term solution, it's not." E-mail David R. Baker at