In South Africa, an environmental group is calling on the government to abandon nuclear power in the wake of the crisis in Japan. South Africa has one nuclear power plant near Cape Town, the Koeberg Plant, the only nuclear power plant on the African continent.
Makoma Lekalakale, who’s with the group Earthlife Africa Johannesburg, says, “We are actually horrified at the events unfolding in Japan. And this sounds a warning for South Africa. We wouldn’t want to see South Africa being in the same situation.”
She says the South African government is committed to building new nuclear power plants to meet future energy needs.
“We’re calling on the South African government to abandon those plans and also take heed from happened in Japan and also historically what happened at Chernobyl, at the Three Mile Island (plant) and in Hungary at Paks. We feel that this is not the way to go,” she says.
Earthlife Africa Johannesburg says there’s “abundant” renewable energy available to meet the country’s needs.
Japan vs. South Africa
However, are the group’s concerns about Koeberg justified, considering Japan was dealt a double blow of a major earthquake and a tsunami?
Lekalakale says, “You cannot plan for earthquakes. You don’t know when they may happen. You don’t know when the tsunamis have finished. So, South Africa is not different from any other country.” She acknowledges, however, that South Africa has not faced a serious earthquake threat.
Critics of the renewable energy plan say it cannot generate enough electricity to meet South Africa’s needs.
She says many renewable energy sources “remain unexploited at the moment. It’s not a question that renewable energy would not be able to complement the energy supply that we need in the country. It’s just a question of who is that energy supply meant for, because much of the energy in the country is consumed by corporations, by companies, mining houses.”
She says these firms have no desire to invest in renewable energy sources, adding that they benefit from the existing power system.
“With renewable energy we show that some of the inequality in the country of poor people not being able to access energy – this would be bridged. Nuclear is going to be much more expensive,” she says.
Earthlife Africa says last year, more than 90 people at the Koeberg plant were exposed to excessive radiation.
The company that operates the plant, Eskom, says Koeberg has operated safely for more than 21 years. It also says Koeberg's two reactor containment buildings are made of thick concrete and are lined with steel. Eskom says they are designed to ensure that no radiation escapes under any conceivable circumstances, from an earthquake to a jumbo jet collision.