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Expanded Nuclear energy, South Africa


South Africa first built nuclear reactors in the 1980s with help from France. The power plants created ostensible justification for the building of enrichment plants, but the main output of the latter was highly enriched uranium dedicated to supplying a nuclear weapons programme. This was cancelled on the eve of the democratic transition, and no one has been held to account for developing weapons of mass destruction. The current government tried in vain to develop a pebble bed reactor but had to give up after costs proved excessive and because the project was going nowhere. In the wake of an electricity shortage, it has once again turned to nuclear to provide part of the energy mix. It intends by the end of 2012 to order around 8 new reactors at a value of ZAR300 billion (although commentators predict cost escalations to over three times that amount), the largest contract ever put to tender by the government. This project aims at securing 9.6 gigawatts of nuclear power. It is opposed by many EJOs, local, national and global, who argue that in the wake of Fukushima this is a risky path to energy security, cannot address climate change, will lead to greater national debt, and cannot resolve questions of high level waste, which will burden many future generations.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Expanded Nuclear energy, South Africa
Country:South Africa
State or province:Various
Location of conflict:Cape Town, Bantamsklip, Thyspunt, Vaalputs, Pelindaba
Accuracy of locationLOW (Country level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict: 1st level:Nuclear
Type of conflict: 2nd level :Military installations
Uranium extraction
Nuclear waste storage
Nuclear power plants
Specific commodities:
Project Details and Actors
Project details:

Once a large producer of uranium, South Africa now only contributes about 1 percent of global supply. Nuclear provides around 5 percent of just under 40 gigawatts of electricity (2012) but government plans to treble the nuclear contribution by 2030 (to 9.6 GW of nuclear-generated electricity). To do so, it needs to start a new tendering process to order nuclear reactors by the end of 2012. It has earmarked new sites around the coast for the location of the new nuclear power stations (at Thyspunt and Bantamsklip).

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Level of Investment:38,000,000,000 - 125,000,000,000
Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:40 million electricity consumers
Start of the conflict:2011
Company names or state enterprises:ESKOM from South Africa - state enterprise
Areva (Areva) from France
Toshiba from Japan
Russatom from Russian Federation
China Guangdong from China
Westinghouse Electric Corporation from United States of America
Relevant government actors:Department of Energy, Department of Environment , National Nuclear Regulator, Nuclear Energy Corporation of S A (state enterprise, currently responsible for nuclear waste management)
International and Finance InstitutionsThe World Bank (WB) from United States of America
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Earthlife Africa, Coalition Against Nuclear Energy, Greenpeace Africa, South African Faith Communities Environmental Initiative, Energy Coalition, Koeberg Alert Alliance, Bantamsklip Alliance, Thyspunt Alliance, Namakwaland Aksiegroep vir die Omgewing, Pelindaba
Conflict and Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Social movements
Recreational users
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Impacts of the project
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Waste overflow
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Militarization and increased police presence
Project StatusProposed (exploration phase)
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Strengthening of participation
Fostering a culture of peace
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Development of alternatives:An end to the nuclear power generation industry in South Africa.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:It will take a major effort to break the power of the nuclear lobby and its capture of the state apparatus.
Sources and Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Nuclear Energy Act

National Nuclear Regulator Act

National Environmental Management Act

Nuclear energy, nuclear waste policy documents

Integrated Resource Plan 2010 documentation

Energy white paper, renewable energy white paper

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Fig, D. 2007. Uranium Road: Questioning South Africas Nuclear Direction. Johannesburg: Jacana.

Fig, D. 2010. Nuclear Power Rethink? The Rise and Demise of the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor. Pretoria: Institute of Strategic Studies.

Greenpeace Africa. 2011. The True Cost of Nuclear Energy in South Africa. Johannesburg: Greenpeace.

Hallowes D. 2011. Toxic futures. Pietermaritzburg: UKZN Press.

Teaching Screens. 2008. Uranium Road (54-minute documentary).

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Business Day
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Business Report
[click to view]

Engineeering News
[click to view]

Mail & Guardian
[click to view]

[click to view]

Earthlife Africa
[click to view]

Greenpeace Africa
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:David Fig
Last update08/04/2014
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