Tell government nuclear puts our health at risk

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Tell government nuclear puts our health at risk
Tell government nuclear puts our health at risk
2,000 signatures required

We’ve heard government talk a lot about their commitment to nuclear as being part of our energy future, and while the Finance Minister says we cannot afford nuclear right now, but the Department of Environmental Affairs has just granted Eskom permission to build a nuclear power plant at Duynefontein, north of the Cape Flats. What is more, Energy Minister Mahlobo gave only a couple weeks’ notice for a public consultation on nuclear energy in the form of an Energy Indaba, which is invite only. Whether the nuclear industry and Energy Minister like it or not, the courts are on our side and we will make sure our voices are heard.

While it’s true that we mine uranium in South Africa, which can be used for creating electricity at nuclear power stations, radiation and radioactive waste is created which is extremely toxic and linked with different cancers and severe health issues [2].

The people of Chernobyl are still living with the impact of nuclear radiation

An accident at a Nuclear Power Plant in Chernobyl 31 years ago meant 1000s were exposed to radiation leading to cancers and poisoned water, fish and plants [3]. The nearby town of Prypiat is a ghost town to this day.


The nuclear industry claims that technology and safety have improved since Chernobyl, and that the Koeberg Nuclear Power plant in the Western Cape has been stress tested to ensure that a nuclear accident would not be caused by an earthquake or tsunami [4] to avoid a repeat of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. However, groups such as Earth Life Africa Johannesburg have still raised concerns about these plants and installations.

What happens if there is a nuclear accident in South Africa?

The nuclear industry and regulators have claimed 16 km from a nuclear power station is a large enough evacuation distance. But Physicians for Social Responsibility, an association of medical doctors in the United States, disagree with the nuclear industry and believes that there should be a 80 km evacuation zone around nuclear plants [5]. Even if this figure is disputed, people who could be affected deserve to make their voices heard. Using this 80 km figure means that the Cape Flats and Cape Town should be at least prepared to evacuate should something go wrong at the current Koeberg Nuclear Plant, or at the planned Nuclear Power station at Duynefontein. The Department of Environmental Affairs has already granted Eskom permission for the Duynefontein site [6] and has been pushing for a nuclear power station to be built at Thyspunt in the Eastern Cape, which is just over 80 km outside of Port Elizabeth. Despite Deputy Energy Minister Thembisile Majola attending a Nuclear Summit in Jeffreys Bay in October this year, which promoted nuclear in the Eastern Cape, the Department of Environmental Affairs has not approved the Thyspunt application [7]. The Gamtkwa Khoisan Council also opposed Eskom's application for the site.


How can we build more nuclear facilities if we cannot protect or compensate workers exposed to radiation?

To date, numerous South Africans have been exposed to nuclear material, including at Pelindaba. Many have died, and those who survive have severe health issues and are still waiting for compensation [8] [9] [10] [11].

Isn’t solar a better idea?

Rosatom, a Russian state owned nuclear company, changed their estimate for jobs that could be created through building a new nuclear plant from 15,000 to 5,760. While jobs in renewable energy such as solar and wind are said to be creating 13 times more jobs than nuclear [12]. The Institute for Sustainable Futures’ research suggests a phased switch to renewable energy generation in South Africa, which includes the domestic manufacture of renewable technologies, could create approximately 180,000 new jobs by 2030 [12].

There are already eight 100% Black owned renewable energy companies ready and waiting for Eskom to sign their Independent Power Producer agreements [13]. However, the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer (REIPP), while less problematic than nuclear, is not a long term solution as it is part of a privatisation agenda. Instead, we join those in the labour movement [14] who have called for democratised, community and worker owned renewable energy, where the profits and benefits of renewable energy flow to the people and not elites. As Mzansi phases out coal, it is critical that a just transition is achieved. Community owned renewable energy can ensure coal workers have jobs in green energy.

Dear Energy Minister Jeff Radebe, Eskom Interim Group Chief Executive Sean Maritz, Nersa CEO Chris Forlee, President Cyril Ramaphosa and Deputy President David Mabuza,

We the undersigned call on the Cabinet, Department of Energy and Eskom to hear our voices and adopt a new resolution to abandon nuclear procurement forever. The proposed Energy Indaba on the 7th and 8th December is offensive to the very idea of public consultation. Therefore, we the people will drive this public consultation and make you aware of the following:

- Nuclear is unnecessary, dangerous, expensive, does not create cheaper electricity, may not create as many jobs as renewables, and will not transform our economy.
- We call on you to sign the agreements of 100% Black owned REIPP proposals immediately; however, we call on you to put in place a 5% cap on IPP contributions to our grid, phase out the IPP programme, and replace it with cooperative, community owned democratised renewable energy, in line with NUMSA’s call for “renewable energy parastatals and municipal-owned renewable energy entities that are under democratic control through constituency-based governing councils and with a strong social mandate to provide energy services, fight energy poverty/inequality and extend the right to energy”.
- We call on you to ensure that there are no job losses in the coal sector by pursuing IPPs, and instead phase in para-statal, cooperative or municipal owned renewable energy that ensure green energy jobs. This requires flexibility in ownership models, and a departure from the privatisation mentality of IPPs.
- We call on government to apply pressure on NECSA to urgently compensate all workers for exposure to radiation, chemicals and unsafe working conditions, and to provide them with urgent medical treatment and tests in a transparent manner.

We expect our demands to be considered as part of the Energy Indaba’s so called ‘public consultation’ as well as future public consultation driven by government, Eskom and NERSA.


[1] Eskom’s latest work on energy policy plan rejects nuclear. Chris Yelland News 25 November 24 2017

[2] Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation: BEIR VII Phase 2 (2006) National Research Council (US) Committee to Assess Health Risks from Exposure to Low Level of Ionizing Radiation. Washington, D.C. : National Academies Press, c2006.

[3] World Health Organisation "World Health Organization report explains the health impacts of the world's worst-ever civil nuclear accident", WHO, 26 April 2006

[4] SEISMIC STRESS TEST OF KOEBERG NPP". CKTI-Vibroseism Ltd. CKTI-Vibroseism Ltd. Retrieved 7 January 2015.

[5] Physicians for Social Responsibility Cites Flawed Evacuation Zones, Nuclear’s Health Risks on Chernobyl Anniversary. April 26, 2011

[6] Eskom welcomes the Department of Environmental Affairs’ authorisation for the Duynefontein site. Eskom Press Release Friday, 13 October 2017.

[7] Jubilation as nuclear vetoed for Thyspunt, Guy Rogers for Herald Live October 17, 2017

[8] Apartheid’s Nuclear Shame. Mandy de Waal and Jon Pienaar for Ground Up 27 June 2014

[9] Desperately seeking justice. Sheree Bega Independent Online 10 December 2016

[10] Nuclear Energy Impact in South Africa: public hearings

[11] 'I thought it would help me get a promotion' Shaun Smillie for Independent Online 6 May 2005

[12] 9 Things You Need To Know About The Nuclear Deal And Energy Justice. Pooven Moodley Natasha Adonis Huffington Post 22 November 2017.

[13] What experts say about Eskom’s excuses for renewable delays. Charlotte Matthews Business Live 29 June 2017

[14] NUMSA Speech: Motivations For a Socially-Owned Renewable Energy Sector. October 2012

Will you sign?

No one can guarantee that nuclear power stations are 100% safe. Workers exposed to radiation and chemicals at Pelindaba Nuclear Research Facility are still fighting for compensation and many have died of cancer while waiting. If we cannot even ensure the safety and compensate workers at a Nuclear Research Facility, how can we even consider investing in nuclear power?