Three Reasons to Oppose Electricity Generation from Nuclear Reactors

Article excerpt

How ironic it must seem to the families of so many victims of the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl that John Walmsley's reasonable argument in favour of nuclear energy should appear on the anniversary of that fateful day of April 1986 ("Nuclear power outstrips other energy sources in the race for long-term answers", Cape Times Insight, April 26).

Unlike Dr Walmsley, however, the national Coalition Against Nuclear Energy (see www.cane.org.za) is quite simply opposed to the production of electricity from nuclear energy for three reasons:

1. The long-term negative impact on human health from unscheduled emissions, effluents, incidents, and accidents of the scale of Fukushima.

2. The unnecessary expense.

3. The unsolved problem with regard to the management of high-level nuclear waste, or spent fuel.

Studies of Eskom's environmental science reports to the national nuclear regulator have shown consistent excessive emissions from Koeberg nuclear power station of caesium-137 in liquid effluent and airborne gases. In 1994, for example, nearly two million becquerels of caesium-137 were released. Although European studies (Cardis et al; German Childhood Cancer Registry) have shown a correlation between increased cancers from nuclear power station emissions, no epidemiological study has been performed on Cape Town.

Moreover, the ageing Koeberg nuclear power station is 28km from the fast-growing city and exercises a 16km exclusion zone for further development to the north. Because the city is surrounded by mountains and the open sea, a major accident on the scale of Fukushima (where evacuation was advised for up to 80km by the US government), would allow rapid transport only on the N1, the N2, and the coastal road past Gordon's Bay. Given the continued urban growth to the north, we call for a phase-out of the Koeberg nuclear power station and a refusal to grant further licences at that site.

With regard to the unnecessary expense of the "nuclear fleet", the proposed 1 600 MW AREVA European pressurised reactor has run into serious delays and cost overruns at the Olkiluoto site in Finland and also at its Flamanville site in France. Projected costs for two of these reactors are in the region of R100 billion, or R300bn for all three projected sites in SA.

There are further plans in SA to enrich our own uranium (R20bn), manufacture the fuel assemblies (R30bn) and reprocess the spent fuel over the long term, providing a complete "nuclear fuel cycle". This would entail not only a massive waste of public funds but an enormous amount of nett energy consumption, as much as one reactor alone for uranium enrichment. Indeed, in its in Industrial Policy Action Plan 2, the Department of Trade and Industries calculated a total bill of R1.3 trillion.

The issue of the long-term management of spent fuel has to be the most irksome problem in relation to the pursuit of a nuclear energy path. …