Kelvin Kemm
JOHANNESBURG - Adri Senekal De Wet, the executive editor of Independent Media, interviews Dr Kelvin Kemm, a nuclear physicist and chairperson of the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation.

Question: What about the dangers of nuclear power?

Answer: That is totally exaggerated. Nuclear is the safest power source in the world, much safer than wind, solar or hydro. For example, how often do you hear the plaintive wail of “Remember the lessons learned from Fukushima”. Well, what were they? Not one single person was killed by nuclear radiation at Fukushima, not one single person was injured by radiation, no private property was harmed by radiation.

So the lesson of Fukushima is that nuclear power is far safer than the most optimistic hoped for. Slam an old outdated nuclear power station with the worst that Mother Nature has and nuclear radiation causes no harm to people or property.

By the way, Koeberg is designed to higher earthquake and tsunami standards than Fukushima was, because half a century ago South African nuclear professionals decided to decree that.

The only people ever to die from nuclear power were less than 60 at Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union and that included soldiers and airmen deliberately sent in to fight the fire, in the same way that they would be sent in on a battlefield.

Q: Who will build the new South African nuclear power plants?

A: South Africans will build the new nuclear plants, just as was done with Koeberg. Who do you think will clear the site, dig the foundations and pour the concrete? Who will drive the trucks, build the walls, lay the underground pipes and cables, and much more. It will be South Africa’s large construction companies. Not boatloads of imported foreigners.

Yes, we will, in due course, choose a foreign technology design. We will strike a deal to use their plans and work with their engineering specialists, just as we do in building all the motor cars which we export. But the thousands of skilled jobs required will go to South Africans. Just give it a moment of intelligent thought.

It staggers me the dumb comments that some people route my way; that we will bring in thousands of foreign workers with their wheelbarrows, spanners, welding torches and paint brushes while we locals sit on the neighbouring hill and watch.

Q: What about the cost of all this?

A: The cost question has also been exaggerated and deliberately misstated by much of the media. Also, of course, by the anti-nuclear lobby, who have an agenda to curtail economic growth. Just read their websites and look for all the “change your lifestyle” advice. Also the “learn to do with less” advice.

The total cost as calculated by nuclear economic specialists is around R650billion, not the magic-sounding "One trillion rand", which runs off the tongue of some so easily.

What is more, most important, note: most important, is that this is a projected expenditure for three new nuclear power stations built sequentially over a 10-year- plus time span. It is not one expenditure, one shot, once, to one foreign country. That is nonsense that the anti-brigade love to chant over and over again. Sadly, too many intelligent people listen.

A further very important factor is that the current target is for a 50percent localisation. So local industry had better get going now to take advantage of the fantastic opportunity. But far too many are just sitting around waiting for the Fairy Godmother to knock on their doors.

In addition, there is export potential and intent built into the plan. For example, if companies make valves and pumps and such-like, they can export to the existing 500 reactors in the world. Necsa, a certified nuclear fabricator, is already doing this. Companies must not just sit around waiting for their ship to come in, only to find in a couple of years that they were waiting at the airport.

Q: What about the nuclear waste?

A: That is also totally blown out of all proportion. There is no “unsolved waste problem”, another chant so beloved by the anti-brigade.

Look at Koeberg. All the high level nuclear “waste” produced in more than 30 years of operation can be placed on half a tennis court, piled no higher than a person. This so-called "waste" by the way, is far more valuable than gold. It is looked after, at Koeberg, with far more care and attention than they would pay to a pile of gold.

The government has not decided on a long-term storage policy for this “waste”, so for now both Koeberg and Necsa, respectively, look after their own valuable spent fuel which some call “waste”.

As far as low and intermediate level waste is concerned that is stored at Vaalputs, the South African Nuclear Waste Repository in the Northern Cape. It is one of the oldest and largest nuclear repositories in the world. It is very ably and professionally run by South Africans, mainly people born and bred in the Northern Cape. Oh, I should mention; low and intermediate level waste is gloves, paper towels, bottles, pipes, and any similar stuff which did or could have come into contact with anything radioactive.

It is all carefully stashed away in numbered bins underground and monitored year after year.