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Nuclear Schmuclear – another Koeberg is on the way February 6, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Cape Town, Nuclear Power, South Africa.

Last year, Alec Erwin, South Africa’s Minister of Public Enterprises, was quoted in the press as having announced that the country was considering building another nuclear power plant at Koeberg, the site of Africa’s only commercial atomic energy facility.

Erwin wasn’t talking about the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) which has been in the news a fair amount and a demonstration model of which is planned for the same location at Koeberg. No, he meant an new conventional nuclear plant with two reactors similar to the existing ones.

The public reaction to this announcement was not even luke-warm, it was practically non-existent. The local press has been equally silent about the issue.

I am concerned about another nuclear power plant being built a mere 30-odd kilometers from my home (I’m also concerned by the PBMR issue, but that’s another story). Why does nobody else seem to give a hoot?

Even if you don’t care about where your electricity comes from, the R16 billion price tag should surely make you start asking questions. Even if you’re an absolute nuclear fanatic, surely you would want to know when you can go on a pilgrimage to the next marvel of modern technology to hit our shores.

For the whole of January, I religiously (sic) monitored the local newspapers. I read the Cape Times, the Cape Argus (including Saturday and Weekend), Die Burger, the Business Day, the Sunday Times, the Mail & Guardian and the Sunday Independent. I may have missed Die Burger once or twice and one edition of the Sunday Independent, but that was about it.

So what did my survey of the local press reveal (other than the fact that reading all of the newspapers is really quite expensive and leads to immense stacks of paper and perpetually blackened printer’s ink fingers)?

Well, with all the power cuts and load-shedding, electricity generation and such were in the news on a daily basis, but other than one or two general, fairly throw-away comments, there was no specific reference to a new conventional nuclear plant that may be in the offing for Koeberg. Oh yes, and Max Du Preez told us that we need to build more nuclear power stations, or maybe not.

I finally sent an email to Erwin’s government department and was told very swiftly and efficiently that

At the moment a feasibility study of building a new conventional nuclear plant is underway, no decision has been taken as yet.


An announcement is expected to be made between March and May 2007, where all the necessary information will be divulged.

Judging from previous experience and considering the enthusiasm government has displayed with regards to atomic energy, I predict that we should expect an “announcement” telling us that construction of a new nuclear power station will commence at Koeberg shortly. And unless Capetonians finally start giving a damn about what goes on in their own backyard, that’s exactly what will happen.



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