Johannesburg - The government is going full steam ahead with its nuclear build programme and the hydraulic fracturing mission in the Karoo, though Minister of Energy Ben Martins is emphatic that it will not bulldoze opponents of its nuclear plans or anti-frackers out of the way.
But he warned that the government had already taken decisions in principle to go ahead with another nuclear power station to follow Koeberg and was in the process of drawing up the appropriate regulatory environment to ensure that hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – was carried out under the right conditions.
South Africa is likely to know by the end of the current financial year to March the details of where further nuclear plants will be situated, who will build them and when they will be completed. The country is holding talks with Russia, South Korea, France and China about appropriate reactors.
During a briefing on South Africa’s energy future yesterday, the minister was asked about Cosatu’s long-standing opposition to the nuclear build programme. He was specifically pressed on possible anti-nuke protests.
He responded: “South Africa is a democratic country, government consults society… there may be members of society who do not agree with the nuclear programme.”
Referring to the unfortunate term of bulldozing, Martins said: “It is not in the remit of our policies to bulldoze people out of the way, the ANC is grounded in discussing, consulting with people in carrying out government policies. There is no way we are going to bulldoze anyone.”
It was “the right” of Cosatu to express its view, he said, adding that it had been the ANC that had supported the Labour Relations Act, which empowered workers in the country to gather and protest “and to exercise their rights”. Nevertheless, he was adamant that the government would tap into “the various sources of energy that we can utilise in the best interest of South Africa”.
Martins added: “Part of the energy mix does involve nuclear power so it is the responsibility for government to reach out to all sectors of society even those against nuclear… to explain the need that we have to utilise nuclear energy. In a similar manner, there are those against fracking and the utilisation of shale gas [so] we have to explain why there is a need for us as a country to utilise that resource.”
He emphasised the point: “Government has taken a decision [on fracking]. We will explore and utilise the shale gas that we have as a country… and in doing so we will mitigate the environmental issues.”
A multi-departmental delegation would visit US fracking wells soon “to study what they have done with regard to exploration… and [to assess] the disadvantages”, he reported.
Energy director-general Nelisiwe Magubane said: “We are working together with the Department of Mineral Resources on the [fracking] regulations.”
She said the government and the Petroleum Agency of SA would ensure that environmental concerns in the Karoo were addressed.
“These regulations are being discussed by the cluster of directors-general,” she said, noting that they would be transmitted to cabinet shortly.
Deputy director-general for nuclear energy Zizamele Mbambo made no bones about the government’s direction, noting that a decision on the investment for a nuclear power plant would be made “within this financial year”.
“We are implementing the nuclear energy policy [which has been] further enhanced by the approval of the integrated resource plan… which indicated that nuclear will form part of the energy mix to the level of some 9 600 megawatts,” he told journalists yesterday.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had inspected of the state of South Africa’s nuclear infrastructure and this had been completed in May, he said. “The IAEA commended South Africa for inviting them to conduct” the investigation, Mbambo said.
The report, however, has not yet been approved by the cabinet and it is not yet available to MPs, the public or the media.
One of the issues the Department of Energy was dealing with was to “operationalise” the nuclear waste disposal institute, he said.
DA energy spokesman Lance Greyling said the government was fixated on driving through nuclear energy when it should be focused on building infrastructure – including gas-fired electricity turbines – for the emerging gas industry in southern Africa.
The National Union of Mineworkers has long opposed the building of a fleet of nuclear reactors. Spokesman Lesiba Seshoka argued in a media release that a R1 trillion project “would sky-rocket the prices [of power] and hit the taxpayer hard in the pocket”. - Business Report