Tuesday, August 21, 2007



All South Africans should be aware that the Department of Minerals (DME) is going to the cabinet within the next few weeks to fast-track the nuclear programme in this country. In the process, they will be striking the death knell for democracy in this country since the public will not be allowed to protest a nuclear reactor being built in their backyard, or waste sited in their community, if the DME embeds its nuclear programme in legislation.

The DME wants to enforce the development of Necsa (also a government body) through legislation in such a way that investors would be guaranteed that their proposals will go through without any hindrance or objection allowed. If they succeed then it opens the doors to any other industry to follow this precedent - and fast-track their developments regardless of public opinion or community objections.

This is of huge significance in this country because at one stroke it takes away any thought of democracy in government - allowing the government to basically write "blank cheques" to investors and dictate that a nuclear reactor will be placed on any site they choose.

At the moment primary legislation controlling the Necsa is the National Nuclear Regulatory (NNR) Act and according to an attorney, Claire Tucker: "each applicant has to engage in a protracted negotiation process with the NNR over the content required".

For investors, Tucker says this means they don't know "how the licence application process would develop, or what problems could arise.” What Necsa wants is a situation that exists in the US so that they can "get a licence confirming the suitability of a site for a nuclear reactor not only before one actually decides to build that reactor, but before the choice of design for the reactor is made. This process includes final environmental approval for the site and the plant parameters proposed. Or one can get a licence for a design of a nuclear reactor before one selects a site on which to construct it".

Necsa states that :"there are a limited number of sites in South Africa which are suitable to build a nuclear reactor, so this scarce resource must be protected. Being able to identify, secure, and licence a nuclear site in advance of a decision to build a reactor gives an investor greater security and flexibility".

So what they are clearly saying is that the government must bend over backwards to protect investors and ensure they are not hindered in any way by public concerns. They want to put laws in place that guarantee the nuclear process will go through - without any obection allowed from the public. This despite the fact that radioactive waste is already buried in large storage drums under 1000 hectares of land at Vaalputs (between Namaqualand and Bushmanland) and with an expanded nuclear programme, this would only increase.

Necsa also had to decommission 56 facilities they said: "to minimise the state’s liabilities with regard to potential safety hazards that the facilities constitute to personnel, the public and the environment. The majority of these sites formed part of the former AEC’s nuclear fuel activities and have all been shut down permanently". So these nuclear sites were identified as hazardous enough to the public to be shut down, but now they want to start the process again?

A Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) in America have been complaining about "generic certification" - or basically writing a blank cheque that no matter what the problems are, a nuclear plant will be built on the site they choose. UCS wrote to the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) in America for a decade to try to get nuclear companies to repair a basic flaw on the Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR) which is the make that Necsa wants to buy from overseas companies. These scientists state that the NNR is the only organization allowed to monitor nuclear reactors and simply does not do its job effectively.

There are other problems besides lack of a democratic process, waste issues and responsibility for monitoring nuclear reactors in South Africa. Who is going to pay for any potential damages? In South Africa, the State is not "the insurer of last resort" for liabilities that arise from nuclear damage that exceed the securities held by the nuclear operator, nor does it have a statutory insurance scheme.

It seems that the suppliers of nuclear parts are concerned that liabilities from nuclear damage will be passed on to them, if the operator is not able to pay and the State refuses to do so. Foreign companies that supply parts to the nuclear industry want South Africans to provide them with higher indemnities than those in the NNR Act to cover nuclear damage claims.

So here you have a situation where Necsa and the DME acknowledge there could be nuclear damage that could cost a great deal - but no one wants to pay for it or be liable for it. This is also bearing in mind that Necsa is itself a government organization and cannot seem to find private investors to cushion the people of South Africa from huge costs that will be added to tax bills and electricity bills.

The minister of the DME herself says that: "no control regime, no matter how comprehensive, could guarantee an end to the illicit trade of nuclear materials". The South African public surely deserves to know that the government is admitting they would not be able to control crime in the nuclear industry - worse still an expanded one?

And in order to find people to run these nuclear reactors - they want to bring back the dinosaurs! “We’re considering bringing back pensioners", Necsa states blithely.

The DME is also offering foreign mining companies licenses to mine uranium in South African and local people of the Magaliesburg and Beaufort West should be informed about the Navajo people in America who suffered cancers due to uranium mining on their lands and have since prevented the American government from any further uranium mining by law. According to Canadian law, primary cancers are an occupational disease of uranium mining. Are Trade Unions representing South African labour aware of this risk to their workforce?

All of these issues have huge implications for the South African public. The DME wants to foist a nuclear programme on the public by imposing legislation to guarantee that developments that cost millions to build and decommission and can cause millions in liability/damages will go ahead without opposition.

This questions the heart of a country's democracy and constitution - the right of the people to legal recourse to protest or object developments that will impact directly on them and the children of the future. These are not small industries, but huge nuclear reactors that require large amounts of space, large amounts of water for cooling processes and still more space for waste.

The DME is very clearly saying, no matter what the public thinks, we will go ahead anyway. But if a country pretends to be a democracy - then people in government must be aware that they are there because voters chose them to represent their best interests. The government is supposed to serve the people who voted them into office - not the other way round, with the people becoming footstools to potential dictators.

Yours sincerely


No comments: