Opinion: Nuclear Is Technology Of The Past, Not The Future

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Written by Dana Sanchez

A Russian environmentalist visiting South Africa told an audience at a Johannesburg university that nuclear is technology of the past, not the future, and the country should instead look to renewables to solve its energy crisis, Mail&Guardian reports.

Russia and South Africa signed an agreement in September to talk about proposed construction of 9,600-megawatts of new nuclear energy.

Facing an energy crunch, South Africa needs six new nuclear power plants and is in the early stages of a long procurement process to add 9,600 megawatts of power by 2030, IndependentOnline reported.

Vladimir Slivyak is a university lecturer and activist with the Russian environmental group Ecodefense. He visited South Africa to talk about the proposed nuclear build, M&G reports. Slivyak spoke at a seminar at the University of Johannesburg on the topic, “Are Russian nuclear reactors a viable solution to the South African crisis?”

“Nuclear is not technology of the future. This is technology of the past, of the Cold War,” Slivyak said.

Under the proposed Russia-South Africa agreement, Russian nuclear utility Rosatom would build, own and operate nuclear reactors with a 20-year guarantee that the power would be bought at a set price, M&G reports. Costs range from 500-billion ran to 1-trillion rand. South Africa would be solely responsible for any damage inside and outside its borders.

Given the track record of Russian nuclear energy, Slivyak said the responsibility clause is probably his biggest concern with the whole project.

Chernobyl was the Russian nuclear disaster that got the most publicity because it affected so many other countries that it could not be hidden, Slivyak said. But there have been others — 39 incidents in 2013 alone — in the 60 years since Russian nuclear energy has been used that weren’t publicized.

The state nuclear regulator – Rostekhnadzor – cited “mismanagement, defects in equipment and design errors” as causes for nuclear incidents, Slivyak said. Russia has 34 nuclear reactors. Russian reactors were built to operate for about 30 years and all are operating 15 years beyond life expectancy.

All of Africa has just one nuclear power plant for commercial electricity supply. Koeberg nuclear power station, operated by Eskom, is 30 kilometers north of Cape Town.

Russia has stopped investing heavily in nuclear power for its own economy, Slivyak said. More than half the country’s primary energy mix comes from natural gas, with nuclear contributing around 5 percent.

Then there’s what Slivyak describes as the “endless cost of looking after the nuclear waste.” South Africa has no experience with how to decommission nuclear plants, he said, which means it would be agreeing to a process for which no one knows the technical outcome.

Instead, South Africa should be looking at renewable technology. It’s rapidly decreasing in cost — unlike nuclear — and there’s less construction involved with renewable tech.

Russia isn’t the only country to sign nuclear power deals with South Africa. So have the U.S., China, South Korea and France, IndependentOnline reports.

France is one of the world’s largest nuclear power plant builders but said earlier this year that it would cut nuclear’s share of its energy mix from 80 percent to 50 percent in 10 years, M&G reports.

“This is a dying industry and there are just too many unanswered questions for South Africa to go down this path,” Slivyak said.