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?

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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."