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SA’s fixation on nuclear energy based on ‘patronage’ via Mail & Guardian

South Africa’s unwillingness to move from nuclear and coal power will lead to catastrophic climate change for the profit of a few, writes Sipho Kings.

In his State of the Nation address this year, President Jacob Zuma said the energy department had committed to building more nuclear power stations,  generating around 9 600 megawatts of nuclear energy a year. He also said a new coal power station would be built, in addition to the two mega-stations underway at Medupi and Kusile. Unfortunately, renewable technology only got a perfunctory nod.

This decision goes against South Africa’s international climate change commitments, its own energy plans and ignores the global shift towards renewable energy. Professor William Gumede, of Democracy Works, said the move was being pursued due to a political agenda. “Projects are being implemented, essentially from a purely patronage point of view,” he argued.

Focusing on nuclear energy also comes with the perceived bonus of tying South Africa closer to Brics nations – Brazil, Russia, India and China – all of whom are nuclear-inclined states wanting to sell technology to the country, he said.

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No future need for nuclear or coal
Last year, an update on what the country’s energy plan should be – the Integrated Resource Plan 2010 – was released. It scaled-down hugely on the country’s future energy needs based on sluggish economic growth. It said nuclear was not needed and a decision could be made in the future if the economy grew faster than expected. It suggested, instead, that there be a focus on hydo-electric power from neighbouring countries, gas and renewable technology. It made special reference to the need for an emphasis on concentrated solar power – the only renewable energy source that can store energy and create base load power.

Winkler said this had not been adopted by Cabinet and it was not clear whether it would be. Zuma’s commitment to build 9 600 megawatts of nuclear power was, therefore, based on old information and outdated energy plans.

David Hallowes of groundWork said the continued emphasis on coal and nuclear in the face of climate change was disastrous. In 2009, South Africa voluntarily pledged to lower its carbon emissions by 42% by 2025. This was part of global efforts to reduce emissions and  ensure that average temperatures did not increase by more than two degrees this century.

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“There is a sense of powerlessness because government has made whatever choices it wanted. But they have a say,” Mughogho said. Eskom is owned by the state and the government employee’s pension fund has a large shareholding in Sasol. People therefore owned them and could demand a change in their business models, she claimed.

The same went for the country’s energy future. “People needed to lobby and put pressure on the government to make sustainable choices,” she said. “We have the power to shift things, depending on the choices we make today.”

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