THE DEBATE over a yes or no to nuclear power has recently only dealt with the economics of it. The hazard issue, which causes the taxpayer to be the insurance underwriter, is being ignored.

Yet the risk of a Chernobyl-size disaster is a major factor in the global decline of orders for new reactors, a development that affects all but desperate or reckless governments.

By oversimplifying the issues, trivialising opposing viewpoints, often mocking those who express them, and selectively presenting information in a misleading way, the nuclear lobby usually succeeds to obfuscate and hide the risks involved.

Thus the deplorable safety history of the global nuclear industry is hidden from most laymen, just as happens in the reduced scope of our current debate.

The industry identified a faulty relief valve and operator mistakes to be responsible for the 1979 Three Mile Island meltdown. Although the nuclear camp had announced that risk analyses had been so comprehensive that meltdowns (The China Syndrome) were impossible, it was now stated “we will learn from this”.

The 1986 Chernobyl disaster, which forced 200 000 people to leave their homes, was indeed caused by a unique, reckless operation. It was probably rightly concluded that it “can’t happen again”. But the nuclear devotees failed to see “nuclear is an unforgivable technology”.

Fukushima confirmed this. Tepco, the management company, had ignored the low probability, high severity risk of a tsunami bigger than it was designed for, something that had occurred centuries ago.

Tepco’s decision to attach more importance to the financial bottom line than to fixing a known risk is typical of the global nuclear industry .

An example with potentially far-reaching consequences is the current handling of the ever-increasing number of spent fuel rods at power stations.

Many power stations now hold five times as much spent fuel in cooling pools than set out in the original design.

Loss of cooling from an accident or terrorist attack can cause the material to overheat, catch fire and release huge amounts of radiation. The overcrowded pools could release more radiation than the Chernobyl accident.

This very high severity risk can be and should be minimised by placing spent fuel rods older than five years into special dry casks. This recommendation, made to the US congress, is mostly ignored. Not so long ago a nuclear physicist, who speaks for the local nuclear lobby, claimed that the water in fuel pools only served to protect operators from radiation.

The wilful blindness of the nuclear group, denying that nuclear technology simply cannot be controlled as it should be, and the fact that the technology is unforgivable, ought to move every well informed and responsible government to abandon nuclear as soon as possible.

Joachim Zimmer

Cape Town

SA is too unstable to pursue atomic power

IT IS obvious South Africa must generate more electricity (see “Russia nuclear deal ‘scares’ critics”, Business Report, September 23). The only question is how.

I am a strong proponent of nuclear power but this has a 50-year benefit time horizon and works best in stable democracies. South Africa is neither stable nor democratic and in 20 years won’t resemble the South Africa we know today.

The deal with Russia is between two very dubious governments and already there is speculation about what exactly has been agreed. The ANC will no doubt sow further confusion to hide where the commissions are going.

The vision of South Africa as an energy-rich, modern manufacturing economy is pure fantasy. Live the dream if you wish but realists should look north.

Bernard Benson

via e-mail

Eskom cannot plan and manage major projects

BEFORE Eskom is authorised to build another big power station, surely there should be an exhaustive public inquiry into exactly why Medupi is several years late and shockingly over budget?

Some of the reputed delaying factors have often been cited but collectively they point to comprehensive failure of project planning and project management.

If that’s the case, should we suspect technical incompetence and/or inexperience in managing sub-contractors?

It would be interesting to see a list of the project managers, and their technical and executive credentials, who have been in charge of this big project.

Also, who assessed them, who appointed them, and who removed them? How many just gave up in despair?

Tim Anderson

Newlands, Cape Town