If nuclear power is reasonable, affordable and desirable, why is the government to secretly sneak in new nuclear build? Why has a new board – which illegally excludes representatives from civil society, business and labour – been appointed by a secret panel for the national nuclear regulator? OUTA’s Liz McDaid, who helped stop a previous unlawful nuclear deal in court, recently alerted us to government’s latest nuclear attempts. 

Liz approached OUTA in 2016 to help raise awareness and public funding for a court case to block a secret nuclear deal with Russia. At the time she represented the Southern African Faith Communities' Environment Institute (SAFCEI) who, together with Earthlife Africa Johannesburg (ELA) took the South African government to court to stop a multibillion-dollar secret nuclear deal with Russia. ELA’s Makoma Lekalakala and Liz McDaid led the five-year court battle, which they eventually won in 2017. Liz then joined OUTA’s parliamentary team, and has since been advising us in our energy portfolio as well. 

Recently, Liz realised that government once again is forging ahead with plans for new nuclear power facilities, even though there is no mention of this in the country’s energy plan up to 2030. 

She discovered that mineral resources and energy minister Gwede Mantashe submitted his determination (decision) to the National Energy Regulator of SA (NERSA) for its consideration and concurrence for nuclear procurement. Within a day, Mantashe also appointed a new board for the national nuclear regulator (NNR) which excludes representatives from civil society, business and labour, something which is required by law and in essence makes this board unlawful. It is also worth noting that board was appointed by a secret panel.

To add more suspicion, Mantashe issued his determination before the NNR’s own process of evaluating nuclear options has closed. Why the unseemly rush for nuclear? And where’s the transparency? 

OUTA wants an unequivocal assurance from the government that a nuclear build programme is not being developed in secret. We want civil society representatives on the NNR board, and we demand transparency and ethical decision-making to ensure that South Africa is never compromised by another secret nuclear deal.

We also want electricity to become more affordable and accessible, and new nuclear power is neither affordable nor appropriate. The potential for renewables has not been sufficiently exploited in South Africa. Even more worrying: the integrated resource plan (or IRP 2019) still restricts the amount of renewable generation that can be built. Why?

The OUTA team is acutely mindful of the potential an expensive nuclear programme holds for unlimited looting. We also know of government’s failure to deliver large-scale infrastructure on time and on budget – just think of Medupi and Kusile, the two power stations that are still unfinished and billions rand over budget.  

Nuclear power is an industry that needs careful, ethical and expert oversight. OUTA is watching the new nuclear plan unfold with great concern and we will keep you informed. Read more here.