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Renewable energy, poverty alleviation and nuclear billions June 20, 2007

Posted by Andreas in "The Economy", activism, Cape Town, Environment, Nuclear Power, Politics, renewable energy, Society, South Africa, Sustainable Living.

At one of the While You Were Sleeping screenings of The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil, an audience member who works for the Cape Town city council told us that renewable energy sources would have to create a market for themselves in South Africa by attracting those able and willing to pay for electricity at a premium. Clean energy for rich greenies, in other words.

The reason for this, he said, was that both locally and nationally, poverty alleviation was the number one priority.
That kind of ended that part of the debate – we all know how huge a problem poverty is in South Africa.

On the weekend, my friend Tammy took me and my boys to see a children’s home in Khayelitsha. Picture the scene: a small house with about four rooms for 40 people. The kids range in age from about 3 to about 15. Some of them are aids orphans and some of them have serious mental and physical disabilities.

(pics: Tammy Gardner)

They’re in need of just about everything that most of us take for granted. Yet, these kids are the lucky ones: at least they’ve got a roof over their heads, go to school or creche and don’t go hungry.


Tammy and others have taken home on as a project. They’ve bought some land and have started to raise funds to build a bigger house.

This is just one example of the dire straits that so many South Africans find themselves in – we all see the squatter camps every day. My point here is: where is the nationally prioritised poverty alleviation?

In this mornings Cape Times, Melanie Gosling reports that:

South African taxpayers will have to fork out R400-billion to pay for Eskom’s planned nuclear programme, an independent study has revealed.

The cost of decommissioning the proposed nuclear power stations at the end of their lives will add several hundred billion rand to the bill.

The study found that this massive expenditure would not solve South Africa’s energy crisis, as the proposed nuclear power plants were unlikely to make a significant contribution to the national grid before 2020.

Eskom is forging ahead with the proposed nuclear programme in an energy policy “vacuum” as South Africa has no integrated energy plan, while the public, who will foot the massive nuclear bill, has had no chance to have its say.

R400 billion! R400 billion, but government is unwilling to pay teachers and nurses half-decent salaries.

Surely, even in a flawed representative democracy, we as taxpayers should be able to decide whether we want government to spend that much of our money (and, I’m afraid, being afforded the opportunity to write letters to a parliamentary committee does not quite cut it).

The lost opportunity costs involved here are staggering. With that sort of budget, anyone who really wanted to and who had two creative brain cells to rub together should be able to open a country-size alleviation-can of whoop ass on the poverty problem, while at the same time building and fostering local, environmentally-friendly energy solutions involving renewable power sources, improved efficiency, energy saving and a reduction in consumption.

What are we getting instead? A dirty and dangerous non-renewable nuclear mega-project that will generate heaps of lethal waste we have as yet no idea what to do with as well as the capacity (for the powers that be) to re-establish an atomic weapons programme.

Oh, but I forget. The way this will all work is as follows: we keep on bending over backwards to provide global markets and giant multi-national companies with tax-breaks, cheap labour, exploitable natural resources and cheap electricity (read about a prime example of this here) and as if by magic, wealth will trickle down all the way to the country’s poorest.

Problem solved. Now will somebody go and tell the good news to the poor.



1. Steve Hayes - June 20, 2007

The good news to the poor is that their increased electricity charges will go to subsidise Alcan’s planned aluminium smelter in the Eastern Cape, using our non-renewable energy sources (like coal), rather than Canada’s own hydroelectric power.

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