Nuclear Energy Impact in South Africa: public hearings


20 June 2007
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report

20 June 2007

Mr L Zita (ANC)

Documents Handed Out:

Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) overview
Sustainable Energy Africa submission
Submission by Ms Mariette Liefferink
Pelindaba Working Group submission
EarthLife Africa presentation
Earthlife Africa second presentation
EarthLife Africa submission
Mitchell Krog: Earthlife Africa resources submission
Namaqualand stakeholders submission
Africa Health and Development submission (awaited)
Legal Resources Centre submission
Habitat Council
South African Council of Churches
Parliamentary Research Unit “Biofuels: The Environmental Context”

Written Submissions:
Mr Glen Adams
Mr Mark Wells
Mr Pieter J Venter & Mr Michael Deats
Bluepebble: Independent Environmental Agency
Mr Deon Braun
Ms Nina Bodisch

Pearly Beach Conservation Society
Mr Andreas Spath
Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) Pty Ltd
Nelson Mandela Bay Local Environmentalists - NiMBLE
FACT - For A Cleaner Tomorrow
FACT petition
Mr J.F Siebert (Consulting Engineer)
Col. Piet Roos
Peter Roux (Envirosec)
Mr W Janse van Rensburg
Ms Ingela Richardson
Mr Mitchell Krog

Audio Recordings for the Meeting: Extract1, Extract2, Extract3

The hearings were ‘jam-packed’ with submissions and lasted a full twelve hours, exposing the ‘other face’ of the nuclear industry. The Committee expressed their disappointment that neither Eskom nor the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa who were invited, were present. The Committee concluded that the hearing was very informative and provided them with much insight. 

The availability of ‘renewable’ energy alternatives formed a major part of the debate as these posed no health risks, were environmentally sustainable and were not a finite resource such as uranium. Submissions noted that South Africa was well disposed to take advantage of ocean, wind and solar alternatives and that the country was not focusing enough attention on energy savings, as it was much cheaper to save energy than to generate it.

The health risks associated with the nuclear industry were also discussed extensively, and their seriousness was amplified by testimony from those who had been personally affected. The risks of nuclear accidents were illustrated by examples of past precedents such as the Chernobyl disaster.

The economic implications of nuclear energy were discussed at length. Nuclear projects had a habit of significant cost-overruns, and it was estimated that converting to nuclear could ‘trap’ the government into contracts to the tune of R1.2 trillion if the entire nuclear ‘chain,’ (including the decommissioning of plants) was considered. Questions that were raised were: was it worth investing such large sums of money into such a high-risk, poorly-sustainable and non-finite energy supply which had toxic waste as a by-product? Was it ethical to use taxpayers' money to ‘go nuclear’ when there were serious long-term health implications to be considered? Prospects of job creation were also limited in terms of the nuclear industry, as it was highly mechanised and technologically advanced. The world was fast approaching a uranium peak and like fossil fuels, uranium was yet another finite source on which to rely. As uranium became scarce, lower grade ores would have to be mined, and the costs of extraction would soar. Thus, nuclear energy would only become more expensive with time.

Submissions noted that there was an unacceptable lack of public participation with respect to nuclear energy. The ‘safety radius’ of nuclear power plants and disposal sites were often far too conservative. Public consultation meetings were often made inaccessible, or were too technical so that many citizens could not understand. It was claimed that the existing nuclear framework contained many relics of the apartheid regime, and was not appropriate to the constitutional dispensation. Licences were awarded under the apartheid regime which should be reconsidered.

There was strong opposition towards the pending amendments of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act and National Environment Management Act, which would reduce the level of public participation required for Environmental Impact Assessments.

EarthLife Africa claimed that Eskom was battling to provide electricity to its own population, and yet was supplying foreign destinations with electricity that was cross subsidised by the South African tax payer.

The institutional problems associated with nuclear management also received attention with the Committee showing impatience in that DEAT and the DME were closed minded with regard to their mandates. An attitude of ‘It is not our problem’ was claimed to have manifested itself at the executive level, and responsibility was constantly ‘bandied’ between these two organs of government. The National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) which fell under the DME, was accused of being institutionally weak

Several ex-employees of the Nuclear Energy Corporation South Africa (NECSA) gave their testimonies as to the questionable activities that had been occurring there. According to the testimonies, NECSA appeared to have neglected the health and safety concerns of these employees.

Ms Liefferink's submission focused on the Wonderfonteinspruit catchment area, where uranium concentration significantly exceeded the legislated minimum. Mr Richard Weeden highlighted the close relationship between nuclear energy and the manufacturer of nuclear weapons.

[PMG monitored the meeting until 20h30]
Overview by Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT)

Mr Wynand Fourie (DEAT Director: Environmental Impact Management) outlined the role of DEAT, emphasising that the Department of Minerals and Energy (DME) was primarily responsible for nuclear issues, and was responsible for the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR). DEAT had a limited regulatory role, and had no role in the formulation of policy. DEAT was responsible for authorising Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs), and also deals with nuclear waste to the extent that it was not dealt with by other legislation. Mr Fourie maintained that DEAT takes decisions on nuclear issues in relation to facts supplied, and in the context of established policy and legislation.

Ms R Ndzanga (ANC) asked exactly what role DEAT played in the EIA process, and asked exactly how such EIAs were conducted. She noted that DEAT was very passive with regard to the regulation of the nuclear industry.

Dr E Ngcobo (ANC) asked who decided on the viability of technology. He noted that waste management was a key concern, and asked whether South Africa had a facility to deal with nuclear waste. He asked if there were any policy provisions dealing with the foreign disposal of waste.

The Chair asked whether there was a forum established for the co-ordination of policy and to what extent DEAT would intervene in the event of excess pollution.

Mr Fourie stated that there was a joint forum in place, this was known as the Joint Co-ordination Committee (JCC) and included the NNR. He continued that DEAT could not decide on technology, as this was not within their mandate. Such initiatives required joint collaboration between the NNR and all policy-makers. In terms of waste management, most of the waste was stored on site. Mr Fourie pointed out that issues revolving around nuclear disposal sites inform a separate debate.

The Chair said that Mr Fourie needed to provide the information requested by the Committee, as these were matters of public concern.

Mr Fourie stated that DEAT did not wish to side-step any issues, but stressed that the department responsible for waste management was the DME. They were better informed to make such decisions. He said that DEAT and the NNR have different mandates. DEAT deals with the EIA process, while NNR deals with the licensing process. In terms of waste management, DEAT was concerned with the prevention of the dumping of waste. The export of waste was a different debate, and was subject to international protocol and conventions.

The Chair asked Mr Fourie to deal with the issues presented to him in a direct manner, and highlighted that effective management in the nuclear sphere required the departments to see wider than their own roles. There was legislation for the movement of nuclear waste in South Africa and it was just a matter of DEAT coming forward and regulating.

Ms Ndzanga asked what problems DEAT was experiencing in the implementation of policy.

Ms J Chalmers (ANC) asked what criteria DEAT would apply to assess whether environmental risks were significant or not.

The Chair stated that DEAT was the custodian of the environment. He asked if the Department had a defined view on the use of nuclear power, and if so, what this view was. He asked how DEAT was approaching the nuclear issue.

Dr D Maluleke (ANC) asked if DEAT had considered climate change implications in long-term planning.

Mr Fourie stated that DEAT were not nuclear experts and have no knowledge of the technical aspects required to plan and implement nuclear policy. DEAT could not question the capability of another governmental institution. There was lots of other legislation in place, but this legislation also concerned other departments. DEAT did have a role in the authorisation of hazardous substances, and this role was executed in accordance with international conventions. The Department of Transport was concerned with the transport of hazardous material, but DEAT did give advice to other departments. If DEAT authorised the transport of substances that could fit into two categories, the other relevant department was consulted.

Mr Fourie stated that evaluating the criteria differently was provided for within the EIA procedure. Reports were evaluated and were available in the public domain. He reiterated the fact that DEAT was the custodian of the environment, but other departments supplemented this role. DEAT implemented the policies of different governmental institutions. DEAT also ensured policies were sustainable and that there were no hidden aspects. Climate change was definitely considered by DEAT in its long term planning, and was taken very seriously.

The Chair thanked DEAT and stated that one must be careful not to be too defensive, as these issues were logical and could be discussed rationally.

Sustainable Energy Africa (SEA) submission
Ms Leila Mohomed (Director: SEA) outlined the challenges facing South Africans today, and then discussed what sort of energy system would best suit the South African context. The benefits of renewable energy were highlighted, these being a decrease in detrimental environmental affects and an increase in job creation.

Dr Ngcobo stated that the debate needed to be constructive, and both disadvantages and advantages of nuclear energy had to be considered. The nuclear source was finite, and had been projected to last 41 years. However, this projection was based only on pure uranium sources, and there were other uranium sources available such as fusion power. Ocean energy was based on tide movements and was very expensive to implement. It would not be possible to sustain industry on a large scale in this manner. The Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) may be a good research project but it must be presented as such, as South Africa was still very much a fossil fuel based economy.

Ms Ndzanga stated that denying access to electricity was a way of humiliating people in the past. Factories and industrial plants were deliberately located away from ‘white’ areas and near informal settlements. She emphasised the need for clean energy, and stated that the population’s health risks should not be compromised when implementing energy policy.

Mr J Blanche (DA) stated that this was not the place for committee members to talk at length on nuclear issues, as the entire point of a public hearing was to give the public a chance to be heard.

The Chair considered Mr Blanche’s request, before stating that the public also had a vested interest in hearing the views of the various Committee members.

Mr Y Wang (ANC) asked Ms Mohomed to elaborate on the meaning of renewable energy being an ‘affordable’ alternative. He noted that affordability was a relative concept. He reiterated the comments of Dr Ngcobo in relation to the high costs associated with wind farms.

Mr Wang asked Ms Mohomed what her sources of information were. As far as he knew, the PBMR project did have the backing of foreign investors, particularly from the United States.

Mr G Morgan (DA) emphasised the need for energy efficiency, and that this needed to be actively encouraged. Renewable energy sources were expensive, but that this was initially the case with nuclear energy sources too, and support for renewables would decrease their cost.  He asked what the time frame for renewables was in South Africa, and noted that this question was pertinent in relation to the costs involved. He added that fossil fuels would form the base load of South Africa’s economy for many generations to come, and asked for SEA’s views on carbon capture and storage.

Mr L Greyling (ID) stated that it was unfair to debate renewables and non-renewables on the same playing field. Renewables had hardly been subsidised by government at all and thus could not be equated with non-renewable energy forms. He added that, with some initiative and investment, South Africa could be a global leader in renewable energy technology.

Mr A Mokoena (ANC) stated that nuclear energy initiatives appear to be ‘looting’ Treasury. He commented that, for such a large project, foreign investors or global institutions such as the World Bank would definitely be relied on. He added that the reliance on Treasury in this regard was concerning. He asked if an integrated approach could be adopted.

The Chair asked if nuclear energy should be rejected, or whether it should be used as one of the elements in a comprehensive mix of sources that contain both renewable and non-renewable sources. He asked if SEA had a strategy for encouraging the saving of energy. Moreover, the Chair stated that unreliability was costly, and was a problem with renewable energy sources.

Ms Liz McDaid (Environmental Advisory Services: representing SEA) stated that renewable energy could not be addressed comprehensively in a nuclear-focused meeting. As far as she knew, nuclear fusion was not a perfected art, and government should rather put money into mature and well-researched energy sources. In terms of pricing, solar thermal electricity was predicted to cost 40 c per kw/h, and within 20 years it would be lower than the cost of fossil fuel base load. Wind energy showed a similar pattern and would become significantly cheaper in only a few years. She added that we were still reliant on coal, but we needed to move forward and start looking for alternatives.

Ms Mohomed referred to the question on affordability and scale, and stated that if the scale was right, loads in excess of 50 megawatts would be affordable. She added that the development process must be hastened.

With regard to time frame, Ms Mohomed stated that the turnaround time for the implementation of a wind farm could be as little as three years. This time scale was dependent on the EIA process. In terms of renewables, storage was important. There were options, pump storage and desalination plants were presently available, but need to be developed to be effective. In rural areas, mini-grid systems could be used and would not compromise the health and safety of citizens.

Ms Mohomed stated that the views of SEA were that nuclear was not a viable and sustainable energy option for South Africa. It made sense to see Koeberg to the end of its life span but nuclear should not be used beyond such an expiry date. The way forward was to focus on renewables.

In terms of reliability, renewable systems must be built to complement each other. This, coupled with adequately developed storage would be a great step in the right direction. There were simple things business could do to conserve electricity, but these were not done because energy was so cheap. Saving energy must be encouraged and built into such a plan in order to ensure its effectiveness.

Submission by Ms Mariette Liefferink
Ms Liefferink a presentation on the institutional control of hazardous waste management, particularly uranium, in the Wonderfonteinspruit catchment area. The  uranium concentration at many of the sites sampled within this gold mining area significantly exceeded the legislated limit. The NNR, which had been called on to take regulatory action, responded by disclaiming the radiological health risk quotient of uranium by stating that it was a quotient set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and therefore had no application in South Africa. She stated that the relevant government organs had failed to enforce the ‘polluter must pay’ principle, South African citizens were now compelled to carry the burdens of health problems, the loss of agricultural land, and the pollution of ground and surface water. This was an unfair externalisation of costs, and would be a likely by-product of the implementation of PBMR technology.

Mr Greyling asked if there had been any quantifiable effects on the health of the community.

Ms Ndzanga stated that in Klerkskraal there was a lot of diamond mining. She asked if people get drinking water from this source, and stated that these people needed to be made aware of this contamination.

Ms Chalmers asked for more information on the studies which underpinned her submission.

Mr Mokoena was impressed by the presentation, and stated that for an ordinary citizen to have conducted such research was admirable. He asked what background she had. He noted that Eskom was not present at the hearing and he was extremely dissatisfied about this. He thanked her profusely for her trouble.

Dr Ngcobo thanked Ms Liefferink for her invaluable contribution. He stated that government did have some strategy for the implementation of renewable energy. The German comparison was not necessarily true, as they were the second largest investor in a major UK-based nuclear project and had accordingly not abandoned nuclear energy. As far as he knew, fusion power was no longer at an experimental stage.

With regard the statistics on contamination of water sources, Dr Ngcobo asked if there were any comparative statistics available, and whether the source of the contamination could be determined. These issues were very relevant to DEAT, and DEAT had to be held accountable. He requested an explanation as to the degree of co-ordination between DEAT and NNR, and directed this question to Mr Fourie from DEAT.

Mr Blanche congratulated Ms Liefferink, and requested that the Committee commission a full report into the matter.

Ms Liefferink thanked the Committee for their response. She stated that she was an ordinary person, and was a mother of four. She had legal training but was not practising, and her father was a judge. She mentioned that she was driven largely by the notion of environmental justice being achieved.

Ms Liefferink said that at the moment, there was very little awareness of uranium contamination amongst affected communities. She added that she had personally designed pamphlets and distributed them in some areas, but a wide-scale publicity operation was needed. The North West Province State of the Environment Report did acknowledge the situation, but as yet, nothing had been done. The Apartheid government justified the ecological defilement of the area, and in order to prevent effects being felt into the future, action needed to be taken now.

In terms of the studies used to support her contentions, Ms Liefferink stated that no contrary evidence had been adduced thus far. The mining giants such as Harmony and Gold Fields had stated that the catchment areas had always had elevated levels of uranium, and maintain that operations under the previous government were responsible for these. Accordingly, the liability they accept for the contamination was very limited. However, some degree of co-operation was being received from some of the big companies, and wetland creation was a good way to focus on environmental rehabilitation.

The Chair thanked Ms Liefferink and stated that the Committee should visit the area and investigate the situation thoroughly.

Pelindaba Working Group submission
Ms Dominique Gilbert (member of the Pelindaba Working Group) focused on coherent environmental management where it concerns the nuclear industry, and drew attention to the lack of transparency with regard to environmental practices and safety within NECSA and the NNR. Ms Gilbert highlighted the serious health risks which establishments such as those at Pelindaba posed to the communities. She mentioned that there had even been reports of genetic mutations within the Pelindaba area, and all such occurrences were simply ‘covered up’ by NECSA and other institutions involved. Often, research that was conducted by institutions that dropped their investigations because they were being funded by NECSA, and was therefore biased and not credible. She stressed that the management of nuclear waste was vitally important, and would pose overwhelming problems for the country if not managed effectively. She mentioned that the EIA processes of the nuclear industry have come to be considered “fatally flawed” and that the responses from the industry, including NECSA to the genuine concerns of the public have been flippant and sarcastic. Ms Gilbert was aware of a report written by a NECSA employee on behalf of the Chamber of Mines, which acknowledged that radioactive material produced as a by-product from the mining industry was being inhaled by the entire Witwatersrand community. This report was never made public.

Ms Gilberts encouraged government to avert from the ‘As Low As Reasonably Achievable’ (ALARA) principle and adopt a precautionary attitude, as there was no human tolerance level to radiation. Ms Gilbert also argued that there was not an adequate focus on the decommissioning of plants. This process was expensive, and needed to be addressed in order to gain a holistic view on the process. Furthermore, the 2002 State of the Environment Report expressly acknowledged the health risk posed in the North West as a result of radioactive contamination of  water sources situated around mining areas. She was concerned by the inability of the industry to prevent or assist in remedying radioactive pollution of the environment. If NECSA was allowed to continue in this fashion they could completely wreck the entire area, which would have a detrimental effect on a wide area including the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site. According to Ms Gilbert, one in twenty uranium mineworkers were exposed to over dosages of radioactive material. NECSA maintained that the safety radius around Pelindaba was 5 km. This was a myth, because if the wind conditions were right, the whole of Johannesburg and Pretoria could be affected.

She pleaded with the Committee not to erode the ‘punch’ of NEMA by allowing the second amendment, and she tasked the Committee with persuading other organs of government not to allow the same. She requested a full enquiry into nuclear energy which involved all stakeholders. Moreover, mining licences should not be handed over without the requisite environmental requirements being fulfilled. She suggested that government should focus on training scientists to deal with decommissionings and remedies for radioactive pollution and become world leaders in this field, rather than focus on producing nuclear energy. Human rights in the context of the environment acknowledge protection from hazardous products and allow for full public consultation.

Mr Maluleka asked if Ms Gilbert had made DEAT aware of the problems. He asked if the Pelindaba Working Group knew of specific offenders.

Dr Ngcobo reflected on a story which had been controversial a few years back. Empty drums disappeared from NECSA and were found in the possession of children in the town of Atteridgeville. He asked if she knew of such a situation, and whether NECSA had been held accountable. Such allegations were horrifying, and such offenders must be held accountable. He emphasised that “NEMA must bite,” and the new amendment would have to be scrutinised carefully. The stories of fish dying and resources being degraded were disturbing, and allowing such practices to continue amounted to a dereliction of duty on the part of government and this Committee.

With regard to Ms Gibert's assertion that money was being spent on training nuclear professionals, Dr Ngcobo stated that this was untrue. Scientists who had been deployed to various locations for nuclear training had actually complained that they were not receiving the training promised. He asked where she had obtained her information.

Ms B Ngcobo (ANC) asked if she had been in contact with the Water Research Commission.

The Chair stated that there were scientists who maintain that the dangers of radioactive material had been grossly exaggerated. He requested that Ms Gilbert express her view on this.

Ms Gilbert responded that DEAT had been made aware of the issues, particularly the contamination in the Crocodile River. About the Pelindaba drums incident, she stated that she did not know exactly what had happened.

In terms of training, she had heard from Dr Rob Adams (CEO: NECSA) that there was a dire skills shortage, and that there was extensive training underway. She said that she stood to be corrected on this. If, however, there were no training initiatives underway, this was even more worrying, as nuclear facilities needed to be maintained.

From a public point of view, she believed that there was mass confusion as to who was responsible for what. Such uncertainty was a direct and undesirable consequence of the lack of coherent governmental leadership.

Ms Gilberts submitted that the dangers of radioactive material could not be underestimated, and were not exaggerated in any way. There was increased evidence as to the detrimental affects of ionising radiation, which could not be ignored. A correlation between radiation and soft tissue cancers as well as other ailments had been conclusively proven at international level.

With regard to the lack of environmental compliance in licensing procedures, Mr Blanche asked specifically which mines were concerned or involved.

Ms Gilbert stated that, like the amendment to the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, the NEMA amendment removes public participation and puts the discretion for the awarding of licences straight into the hands of the executive.

Mr Blanche said that he knew of mines, particularly within the Ekurhuleni area, that were being handed licences without any form of environmental consideration occurring. Informal settlements and squatting often occurred on these mine heaps and dumps. It was possible that squatters were seriously endangered by contaminated or radioactive material within the heaps upon which they were residing.

Earthlife Africa Johannesburg submission
Mr Mashile Phalane (Co-ordinator: Earthlife Africa Johannesburg) focused on the physical illnesses caused by radioactive uranium. He was accompanied by several individuals who gave an account of their experiences of being affected by contamination. He spoke of Victor Motha, a young university graduate and NECSA employee, who died as a result of inhaling fluoride gas in 2001. The Minister had promised the family that no stone would be left unturned when investigating the matter, and that a report would be provided which would be compiled by both NECSA and the Department of Labour. To date, the report had not been submitted. After the Mail & Guardian covered the story, the family received R6000 in the post which NECSA regarded as sufficient compensation.

Mr Phalane called on government to separate the NNR from the DME, and to conduct epidemiology tests and set standards before implementing nuclear power on a wider scale. He recommended that a commission of enquiry be established to investigate worker illness and provide affected individuals with a mechanism to express their views and experiences.

Testimony of Mrs A Daniels: Widow of Mr H Daniels
Mr Harold Daniels was an employee of NECSA for 15 years, and died as a result of extinguishing a fire and performing functions which were not within the scope of his employment and which he had not been trained to do. Mr Daniels died when he was 46, and had been complaining of a stiff arm and neck, as well as a swollen stomach. He sought medical attention, but it was too late for any treatment to be effective. Mr Daniels remained tight-lipped as to the sequence of events that had occurred, as he considered the information to be privileged. Consequently, Mr Daniels went to live with his mother, and told her everything that had occurred behind closed doors at NECSA. He was offered a severance package by NECSA in 1996, but refused to accept it, and Ms Daniels had to accept it on his behalf. Mr Daniels became very unresponsive and quiet, and turned a yellowish colour. He died shortly thereafter. NECSA refused to pay out their life policy, as there were two instalments which had never been paid. When Mr Daniels died their child was only in Grade 7 and the family had no source of income. Ms Daniels, who was visibly emotional, pleaded with the Committee to ensure that justice was done.

Testimony of Mr S Jaca
Mr Sipho Jaca had been an employee of NECSA since 1981. During the course of his employment, he became sick and was referred to the company doctor. He emphasised that he was in severe pain. He continued to work until 1987, at which stage he was retrenched as he had become a ‘problem.’ The doctors told him that he was sick, but they did not explain the illness. He had no work, and his first wife left him. He was subsequently diagnosed with a lung infection and Graves Disease. He had not received any compensation form NECSA, and he was very poor, relying on his brother in order to survive.

Testimony of Mr C Chauke
Mr Chauke worked at NECSA from 1981 to 1998, and had been told that all NECSA activities were confidential. NECSA informed him that, if he were to get sick, he was obliged to use the company doctors. Mr Chauke became seriously ill, and was then informed by NECSA that he was to be retrenched, and that he was not to ask questions.

Testimony of Mr A Sepepe
Mr Alfred Sepepe began working at NECSA in 1989, his job description being that of a ‘decontamination worker.’ As he was working he became very sick, and he went to the company doctors to be treated. In 1999 he was suddenly informed that his work was being phased out, and on 31 October 1999 he was retrenched. Mr Sepepe thought that this was strange, and approached his supervisor for an explanation. His supervisor told him that it was because he was ill, and that he should not question the decision, as he would receive severance pay. He had a bond which he was not able to repay, and his house had subsequently been repossessed. He only had the clothes on his back, and his wife had also left and taken the children.

He said that it was not only him who was left suffering, but many others in the same position. Mr Sepepe therefore organised a union, of which he was the chair, and aligned the union with COSATU. Mr Sepepe was offered R20 000 on condition he remained silent. The COSATU representative became very ineffective, and it also transpired that he had been given a car and a house by NECSA. With regard the Attridgeville drums incident, Mr Sepepe stated that NECSA was selling the contaminated drums to their employees, as the employees used the drums to carry water.

The majority of the testimonies that followed Mr Sepepe's, showed a similar pattern. According to the testimonies, NECSA appeared to have neglected the health and safety concerns of these employees. They claimed that NECSA usually attempted to conceal transgressions by retrenching the employees concerned, and silencing those who would prove to be ‘problematic.’ There was little evidence of these affected individuals receiving any compensation.

The Chair thanked all the individuals who had given their testimony.

Ms Chalmers noted that the situation appeared to be similar to that which arose as a result of the asbestos intoxication a few years previously. She asked if Earth Life Africa was the only organisation assisting these affected individuals, and whether other NGOs or legal organisations had offered assistance. Moreover, did any or all of the individuals have access to disability grants?

Dr Maluleke asked if the employees were offered or given any protective clothing.

Mr Morgan asked if NECSA had ever made the employees aware of the risks involved in this specific line of work. He stated that this was not even a case of ‘informed consent’ as nobody could ever consent to working under such hazardous conditions.

Ms Ngcobo asked if NECSA was still selling the drums to their employees.

Mr Blanche stated that the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) should be commissioned to investigate this matter.

Mr Mokoena maintained that instant relief measures were required. He would write to the Minister of Social Development and ask him to intervene. Disability grants were needed urgently. Also, the Minister of Housing should be compelled to put these individuals on a list for preferential RDP housing. Mr Mokoena advocated that the Committee visit the Pelindaba region, and that community members should be consulted before meetings were held with NECSA. The affected members of the community must go to the police station and commit their experiences to paper in the form of an affidavit. He reiterated that ‘NEMA must begin to bite,’ and that NECSA must pay.

Ms Ngcobo said that she was horrified at the accounts she had heard that day, and that these transgressions on behalf of NECSA should be treated as human rights violations. She repeated the opinion of Mr Mokoena in that the community must be consulted before meeting with NECSA.

Mr Phalane responded that Earth Life Africa had raised R70 000 for people to go to doctors, but that this amount was not nearly sufficient. Often, a specialised radiologist was required to deal with the cases, and this was even more expensive. The Legal Resources Centre (LRC) in Pretoria was assisting the organisation, and an environmental lawyer had established that the confirmed radiation cases were actionable.

Mr Phalane said that the employees were not made aware of the serious health risks involved in their respective areas of employment.

The Chair said that the Committee would interact with those responsible and would insist on a real response and real action.

Namaqualand Stakeholders submission
Mr Andy Pienaar and Ms Terry Grove (representatives for the Komaggas and Namaqua people) stressed that the community did not want any nuclear facilities in the surrounding area. The people of this area were reliant on their land, and were not in a position to compromise their livelihoods. South Africa’s nuclear industry had its roots in the apartheid era, which was reflected in the existing nuclear framework. Mr Pienaar questioned the legitimacy of the licences awarded during that regime, as established ‘coloured’ and ‘black’ communities were overlooked, and their contributions discarded. He asked the Committee to reinvestigate the awarding of these licences.

Under NECSA’s predecessor, Atomic Energy Corporation, many promises were made which were not fulfilled, and AEC’s relationship with the community was not harmonious. On one occasion, AEC had hired people ‘once-off’ to work in trenches fixing buried drums, which had been found to be faulty. NECSA and the NNR were approached and asked for the medical records of these employees, but a reply was never received. The consultants who did the EIA for ‘Nuclear 1’ were asked to do the same study in the Namaqualand area. However, ‘all of a sudden’ the safety radius of Nuclear 1 was found to exclude the affected community. Mr Pienaar wondered if this was because the community was too ‘inconvenient’ and vocal?

Mr Pienaar asked why the environmental assessments were always occurring in the areas which had a high prevalence of migrant workers. He called on government to ensure that this process included the permanent members of the community. In addition, a plea was made to consider long term issues such as climate change and seismic activities, so as not to endanger the long term prospects of the community. Much of the land in the area was being used by parastatals, and the community could not afford to lose much more of its land. He added that disinvestment in nuclear projects was key.

The government did not proceed with gas exploitation at Hondeklipbaai due to poverty issues, and pleaded that the government take the same route in this regard. Nuclear facilities do not generate sufficient employment and were not sustainable in the long term. He recognised the difficulties faced by government in securing electricity supply, but highlighted that government must consider an integrated approach.

Earthlife Africa Cape Town: input by Atlantis community representative
Mr Keenan Van Wyk, an Atlantis community representative, spoke of the need to establish a commission for people to come forward and report incidents of the nature discussed at these hearings. In his submission, Mr Van Wyk referred primarily to the Koeberg power station. The public were not consulted adequately. Eskom had a duty to hand deliver notices about consultation meetings to the community concerned. Often consultation meetings were of a highly complicated nature and the community did not understand them. Eskom needed to pitch the ‘tone’ of the meetings correctly. Atlantis was said to be outside the appropriate radius for the Koeberg power station, and the residents were therefore not consulted adequately.

Mr Van Wyk mentioned that, in one of the meetings, twelve questions formulated by an engineer, were directed at Eskom. These questions were highly technical in nature, but amongst other concerns, it queried Koeberg’s protective steel covering, overlaid with cement, may have become rusted. Eskom was threatening to institute proceedings against him, as Eskom claimed that these twelve questions amounted to unfounded allegations.

Mr Mokoena maintained that reading the twelve questions out aloud would put the questions on the parliamentary record officially, and may offer some indemnity against litigation.

Mr Van Wyk read the twelve questions out aloud.

Mr Morgan asked the Earthlife Africa and Namaqualand representatives whether any epidemiological studies had been conducted with regard to Vaalputs or Koeberg Power Station. If not, he highlighted that human health concerns should be placed on the agenda of the community forum.

Dr Ngcobo asked Mr Van Wyk on what grounds Eskom was litigating against the engineer who had asked the twelve questions. ‘Questions’ could never really be allegations as such, and he should be afforded answers in his capacity as a concerned member of the public. However, he noted that the concrete covering was known as a ‘defence wall,’ and had never really posed a problem in terms of rust. He stated that the fact that Koeberg was near the sea should not make any difference. He reiterated that this individual should not be charged.
Mr Mokoena stated that they needed to pin down the officials who were calling their ‘bluff’ in terms of the public hearing requirement in an EIA. A register was needed, and this would assist in maintaining the integrity of the EIA process. All stakeholders and, preferably, members of this Committee must be present in order to give the hearing the legitimacy that was required.

Ms Grove stated that no health surveys had been conducted. Jobs were so scarce that people would not complain to their employees if they become ill, as they were afraid. The company insisted on having meetings at Vaalputs, which was completely inaccessible for the majority of community members. She recommended that holding meetings at Springbok would make the meetings far more accessible.

Mr Van Wyk highlighted that safety was a major concern. He said that, in this regard, there was no established forum as yet. Increased transparency at Eskom would assist greatly in expediting the process. In light of the questions posed by the engineer, Mr Van Wyk felt that one would have the right to pose such questions in the context of a public safety forum. The meetings were relatively informal, and no minutes were taken so the questions were probably not reflected accurately within the minutes.

EarthLife Africa Cape Town submission
Ms Maya Aberman strongly advocated that “nuclear energy was not the answer,” and that the PBMR project should be abandoned. Such High Temperature Gas Cooled Reactors (HTGCRs) were never successfully commercialised and had largely fallen into disuse. If the PBMR project was deemed successful, at least ten other reactors would be built around South Africa. Furthermore, Eskom had announced an intention to expand its nuclear programme with the addition of Pressurised Water Reactors at several locations around South Africa. The consequence of the above developments would be an increase in uranium prospecting and mining, which was the activity that was responsible for the greatest percentage of health-related damage.

Nuclear energy results in radiation harm to humans and the environment, and there was no known ‘safe dose’ of radiation. There was increasing evidence suggesting that lower doses of radiation were more dangerous, as they cause cells to mutate more easily than higher doses. There was no dispute as to the affects of radiation, and there was consensus that it was harmful to most living organisms, however, the dispute arose as to what, legally, was considered an allowable dose. There was little doubt that communities living near nuclear plants were not safe.

Nuclear energy carried the risk of catastrophic nuclear accidents. PBMR technology was initially held to be ‘meltdown proof.’ However, a reputable US source had recently deemed the PBMR technology to be dangerously flawed. The Chernobyl disaster showed the serious effects of a nuclear meltdown. It was estimated that 160 000 square kilometres of land was affected, spanning across three countries, and affecting 9 million people. Aside from the obvious health ramifications, such a disaster would virtually obliterate agriculture and tourism in our country. If there was to be an expansion of the nuclear plans, municipalities would need to be ‘disaster ready,’ and this would cost the taxpayer millions.

In terms of climate change, Ms Aberman contended that nuclear energy was not a viable solution to climate change. The complete nuclear fuel chain was very energy intensive, taking into account emissions during mining, plant construction and decommissioning. Uranium enrichment was an incredibly energy intensive process. Additionally, the Kyoto Protocol did not recognise nuclear energy as a clean alternative to fossil fuels. In comparison to renewable energy sources, nuclear power released up to four times more carbon dioxide per unit of energy produced in comparison to the entire fuel cycle. Moreover, a by-product of nuclear energy was a highly toxic and harmful radioactive waste which could not be safely disposed of. Such disposal sites were usually located away from the cities. Could this be unfairly discriminatory?

In terms of production costs, nuclear energy was up to four times more expensive than fossil fuels. The costs of the nuclear plant did not stop once construction was complete, and decommissioning was a grossly underestimated cost. Nuclear power removed funding away from the development of clean alternatives and consumed money that should be used to develop wind, water and solar energy sources. The PBMR project had already cost R2 billion, and was expected to cost another R11.3 billion. However, this could escalate to R25 billion if decommissioning costs were included. South African taxpayers would bear this cost.

If one considered that nuclear power was based primarily on the mining of uranium, one would had to consider the extent of South Africa’s uranium reserves. Uranium, however, was a finite resource and would become increasingly scarce as extraction increased. In order to sustain the reactors, lower grades of ore would be used, and extraction costs would increase, along with carbon emissions.

Nuclear energy did not generate sufficient employment. Eskom’s job estimates for PBMR were based largely on attaining a large number of export sales, which was purely speculative. Currently, there did not seem to be a global market for this.

South Africa was also rich in wind, solar and ocean renewable energy sources, and should cultivate these assets. Opportunity also existed for the cultivation of photovoltaic, solar thermal, biomass, micro-hydro and wave energy production. In the USA, Ms Aberman highlighted that wind was already cheaper than coal, and a mix of all the above requirements could easily meet South Africa’s energy requirements. Renewable energy was clean, efficient, sustainable and safe. Ms Aberman emphasised that Africa should not be a dumping ground for nuclear waste nor should it be a testing ground for unsafe nuclear technology. It was not ethically justifiable to use taxpayers’ money to fund an initiative which would be harmful to their health and degrade their environment.

Public input was also lacking with respect to nuclear technology. The White Paper on Energy in 1998 promised that policy would be subject to a ‘structured participation and consultation with all stakeholders.’ This promise was never fulfilled. The World Bank no longer funded nuclear programmes of any kind, and yet the public were expected to ‘foot the bill.’ This was neither fair nor just.

South Africa also faced a problem in that Eskom was institutionally arranged in a manner which granted the government a vested interest in the sale of electricity. The close link between Eskom and the government did not ensure transparency and accountability, and the NNR lacked capacity and was not institutionally strong enough to regulate that relationship. The NNR was also not independent, in that it was controlled by the DME. The Minister of Minerals and Energy appointed the NNR board and controlled the constitution of the board. The above demonstrated a worrying concentration of power. The NNR was also inaccessible to the public, and corresponding with the NNR could only be described as a ‘nightmare,’ as letters were never responded to, and telephone calls were not returned.

Ms Aberman mentioned that Eskom had recently embarked on a venture to supply the Canadian firm ‘Alcan’ with energy, at a price that was not known but was considerably cheaper than that which was paid by South Africans. The amount of energy supplied to them was equivalent to that supplied to the entire Nelson Mandela metropole.

EarthLife Africa Cape Town: submission by Dr D Fig
Dr David Fig stated that much of his presentation had already been covered during the course of proceedings. In light of all the problems and concerns already discussed, Dr Fig stated that the government ploughing R400 billion into the nuclear industry was nonsensical, particularly in light of Eskom’s report, which had officially documented Koeberg’s mismanagement. Nuclear reactors had a habit of cost overruns and had, time and time again, proven to be business disasters. Renewable energy sources were the way forward, and made both financial and environmental sense. He highlighted the institutional problems discussed by Ms Aberman, and said that one must analyse who exactly was profiting from ‘going nuclear’.

He said that NEMA had an important role to play in ensuring environmental justice was done. It was important that the Committee question the executive thoroughly on these matters, and ensure that due EIA procedure was followed meticulously, particularly in terms of public participation. He called for fiscal vigilance to safeguard against the executive committing the country to debt and further poverty. It was urgent that they did not fall into the trap of believing that the nuclear industry was ‘clean and green.’ This, as illustrated that day, was definitely not the case. They owed it to future generations to address these questions frankly. He concluded by highlighting that the precautionary principle in NEMA was there for a reason.

Mr Mokoena stated that, although running the risk of playing devil’s advocate, it would be difficult to imagine life without Eskom. He recommended that the three Committee chairs co-sponsor a pro-renewable energy conference, where all stakeholders came together with business plans and budgets. A coherent ‘renewables’ development budget was required. The conference must provide a constructive interface where all views were considered and valued.

The Chair stated that the Committees would consider the suggestion.

Ms Ndzanga asked the EarthLife Africa delegation what the price of electricity in Soweto was.

Mr Morgan stated that EarthLife had been involved in litigation with regard to the EIA process in the PBMR implementation. One did not hear much about PBMR anymore, and the focus seemed to have shifted towards the hydro technology. He asked the delegation if they got the sense that the lack of energy planning in the 1990s had subsequently created a crunch which had manifested itself of late. If this were the case, this would then explain the sudden re-focus on nuclear activity.

The Chair said that two weeks previously Eskom had mentioned a substantial amount of investment into the development of renewables, and asked if the delegation had any more information on this announcement. In terms of emissions, he asked what the percentage difference was between those produced by nuclear and other forms of energy generation. He emphasised the importance of energy savings, and asked which countries were progressive in this regard. He asked if the delegation had any idea as to what was driving the current focus on the use of nuclear power in South Africa.

Dr Ngcobo commended the delegation on their presentations but said that it was dangerous to generalise. He noted that nuclear power had initially entered South Africa via a weapons programme. He , and also asked how EarthLife Africa coped with the conflicting and ill-defined mandates between DEAT and the NNR. He mentioned that it would be useful to structure a separate nuclear policy in South Africa, as this was currently non-existent.

Ms Ngcobo commended the presenters, and asked who funded the organisation.

The Chair pointed out that they needed to focus on finding a way forward for energy in South Africa.

Dr Fig said that South Africa was wrong to focus on the nuclear industry, as many alternatives were available. He mentioned that citizens of South Africa had a duty to question the decisions of their leaders if they felt they were being misled. He noted that, by its very nature, the nuclear industry had to lack transparency, as it was faced with enormous issues such as trafficking problems and such like. This was not ideal in a South African context, and they needed to focus on what would benefit the broad public interest.

Mr Mokoena stated that the PBMR would eventually ‘swallow’ Eskom if it gained too much momentum, and one would be faced with a situation similar to that which occurred with Iscor.

The Chair asked Dr Fig to give more details on the ‘Alcan deal.’

Dr Fig stressed that this deal was shrouded in secrecy, and Eskom and the NNR’s minutes were not available to the public for scrutiny. It did not make sense that Africa was producing energy for Canada when it could not effectively supply its own citizens with electricity. The Alcan electricity price was not known, but the energy supplied was considerably cheaper than the price in SA.

Ms Aberman agreed with the Chair in that South Africa desperately needed a way forward in terms of energy, and pointed out that one had to look at the vision and fill in the gaps. Focusing on the health of the public was not optional, but a necessity. This focus would necessitate a re-look and substantial investment into renewables. Alcan would only be paying 18% of what Soweto residents pay for electricity. This was also not an isolated example, and was becoming a trend. It was unacceptable for South Africans to have to cross-subsidise electricity which was being exported, when they did not themselves have a sufficient supply.

She said that the government might be realising that the PBMR was a white elephant. Ms Aberman said that, in terms of investment in PBMR, her understanding was that the initial agreement between investors and Eskom was for the research stage only. This period had now lapsed and Eskom was ‘carrying the can’ and owned 100% of the shares in PBMR. In terms of renewables, Ms Aberman stated that this was not her field of expertise, and that enough had been said earlier in the hearing.

In terms of the difference between fission and fusion, Ms Aberman said that she had not heard that much about the Eskom fusion plant mentioned earlier in the hearing, and said that this might be because it was not effective. One only hears about initiatives from Eskom when they were going well.

Mr Greyling clarified some of the confusion over the PBMR shareholding. It was his understanding that the initial allotment of R500 million was reportedly used to buy back the PBMR shares from Eskom. Who, then, was PBMR reporting to? PBMR needed to be held accountable as it was heavily reliant on taxpayers' money. He said that it definitely did not “come through” the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA). With regard to the conflict in the mandates between DEAT and NNR, the issue had been raised but had subsequently stalled.

Africa Health and Development submission
[PMG note: The AHD submission will be made available shortly]

Legal Resource Centre submission
Ms Angela Andrews discussed the contractual, legal and financial ramifications of ‘going nuclear.’ She stated that the R400 billion already mentioned was only the beginning of the costs, and the decommissioning process could cost twice this amount. This could amount to a R1.2 trillion commitment on behalf of government. In view of all the problems associated with nuclear energy that had been discussed during the hearing, was it sensible to invest in a non-renewable, inadequately sustainable, high-risk energy source? If South Africa bound itself contractually in this regard, it would be ‘stuck’ repaying the debt for years to come, and would be unable to take advantage of any new technology that might come its way. She emphasised that cost-benefit analyses of all the renewable alternatives need to be comparatively assessed before any definite decisions on going nuclear were made.

[PMG did not monitor this meeting after 20h30]


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