light for new nuke plant in Cape Town
The Cape Times, South Africa, 27 June 2003
By Melanie Gosling
Original address: http://www.capetimes.co.za/index.php?fArticleId=177905
The government has given the green light for a controversial
multi-billion rand pebble bed nuclear reactor to be built at Koeberg
north of Cape Town.
Yesterday Chippy Olver, director-general of the
Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, said environmental
impact studies showed the proposed nuclear power plant was "acceptable".
Olver also approved environmental impact studies
for a nuclear fuel plant to be built at Pelindaba in North West pro-vince
to supply the new reactor.
Construction of the reactor, a pebble bed modular
reactor (PBMR), cannot begin until it has been given a licence by the
National Nuclear Regulator, which controls nuclear safety.
Close to a billion rand has already been spent on
the PBMR project. Once the pilot PBMR has been built at Koeberg, Eskom
plans to build others for export, a project running into many billions
Olver's approval is subject to several conditions,
the main one being that the Department of Mineral and Energy Affairs
develops a policy to deal with high-level nuclear waste. Olver said
he had been assured that a draft policy was "imminent".
Olver's decision comes after a three-year environmental
impact assessment process that has been criticised by environment groups
and the City of Cape Town as being flawed. Olver said he had found the
impact assessment complied with all the legal requirements.
Olver said: "A lot of objections were on policy
matters which fall under the Department of Mineral and Energy Affairs.
It is not the job of an impact assessment to deal with the question
of whether South Africa should pursue nuclear energy, nor is it in my
ambit to decide on matters of nuclear safety." Eskom welcomed the
decision as a major step towards completing the feasibility phase.
"This paves the way for the next phase of a
locally-driven, leading edge nuclear technology project," Eskom
spokesman Fanie Zulu said yesterday.
Questions have been raised as to who will buy the
PBMRs Eskom intends to build for export. The US nuclear company Exelon,
which had guaranteed to buy 30 or 40 of the plants, pulled out of the
project last year. British Nuclear Fuels (BFNL), Eskom's other project
partner, is being reorganised and possibly privatised. BNFL was to design
the fuel for the PBMR.
Steve Thomas, an energy policy expert from the University
of Greenwich who sat on the PBMR review panel convened by the government,
said yesterday: "Exelon was Eskom's trump card which has fallen
away. There is no prospect of Eskom selling the PBMR in Britain after
the white paper on energy, and BNFL is in no position to make a long-term
commitment to the PBMR."
He said Eskom had "scaled up" the design
of the PBMR twice. The current design was 25% larger than the original.
"This is ironic for a design whose selling
point was it small size. The project is a risk with no clear markets,
no clear design and with the risks likely to fall squarely on the shoulders
of the South African taxpayers."
Liz McDaid of Earthlife Africa said: "The department
has put the cart before the horse by giving the go-ahead without waiting
for the outcome of issues like waste policy and safety."