A Greenpeace protesters been arrested in Sandton. Picture: Mujahid Safodien 29 05 2012

“No nuclear energy in Africa!”

This was the rallying cry of a group of environmental activists who protested outside a pro-nuclear power conference in Sandton on Tuesday.

The Greenpeace activists, dressed in nuclear emergency suits, arrived outside the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) building in Fredman Drive in peak-hour traffic. They placed nuclear waste props around the entrance to the building.

Four of the activists were detained by private security guards after chaining themselves to the entrance gate.

Another activist, who was holding up a sign to passing motorists, was also apprehended by security guards.

The guards then turned on the media, using the props, which were filled with leaves.

“They were really very aggressive with us,” said energy campaigner Ferrial Adam, who was one of those who were detained. “They hit us on our backs to get us to move away from the gate and then just killed the locks with their batons.”

“We don’t want to cause trouble,” said Dianne McAlpine. “We just want to highlight that there’s a conference going on in that building that’s not taking into consideration the average people who’ll be living with nuclear power.”

The IDC said it respected citizens’ right to peaceful protest, but the protesters had chained themselves to the gates and started littering. The security guards had to intervene and clear the entrance to allow visitors to come in, it said, adding that nobody was hurt.

The Nuclear Power’s Future for Africa Conference brought together government officials and pro-nuclear lobbyists.

The Department of Energy plans to introduce 9.6 gigawatts of new nuclear energy by 2030 as part of its Integrated Resource Plan. In a video address to the conference, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe said while SA would continue to rely on coal, it had to turn to other sources to meet its energy requirements.

“Nuclear power is ideal in this sense because we can build large nuclear power plants at points around our southern coastline, and potentially elsewhere in the future,” he said.

“Nuclear power plant construction is a major undertaking, which will bring significant economic benefits to local industry. Together with foreign partners, South Africa certainly has the capability of bringing its significant technological talents together, such that we can forge ahead in the development and construction of nuclear power plants, and also to become an important player in the export of nuclear power components and assemblies.”

But Greenpeace contends the debate is far from resolved.

“There’s no public debate and very little transparency,” said campaign manager Olivia Langhoff. We’ve tried talking to the government on numerous occasions but have mostly been met with hostility and ignorance.

“There is no sign that the government is willing to talk with us or anyone else.”

The group says nuclear energy is an expensive and dangerous technology and that increasing it would divert attention from real efforts to install renewable energy like solar and wind power.

“As a continent we should be learning from what history has shown about nuclear power: it is a dirty and dangerous source of energy, and one that will always be vulnerable to the deadly combination of human errors, design failures and natural disasters,” said Adam.

Greenpeace said it would lay a complaint against the private security company.

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The Star