“We do not need nuclear”

"We do not need nuclear"Num is against nuclear energy. Numsa Bulletin spoke to their national treasurer, Derick Elbrecht.

What are Num's views on nuclear?Our focus, as Num and Cosatu, since 1995 was on distribution of electricity – to restructure and transform it and ensure a more equitable distribution of energy, especially to the urban poor and rural folk.

Our outcry has always been that we need to have a debate on the electricity supply industry. And up to today that debate hasn’t really taken place.

The most recent crisis meant that there was a response to the current problems but not in terms of broader policy issues.

Currently 60% of rural areas do not have grid electricity. This contributes to low productivity levels in these areas.

I understand that Num is against nuclear. Why are you against it?We do not need nuclear if you look at the cost implications. If you offset all the cost implications of nuclear then it doesn’t make sense that you pursue the nuclear option.

For example, an amount of R6 billion was allocated to the development of the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR). Now costs have escalated to R20 billion.

There is still no proof that this technology works and similar development of these reactors elsewhere have shown hopelessly overrun budgets. Government must scrap the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) Project

When we had the famous bolt incident in Koeberg, there was an indication as to how we could introduce energy efficient measures that would reduce load demand eg from generation areas in MP. But the cost of pursuing nuclear doesn’t make resources available to roll out energy efficient schemes.

What has influenced you against nuclear energy?I worked for eight years at Eskom's nuclear power station at Koeberg.

I depended for my living on Koeberg. If there is one person that should have been converted by nuclear, it should have been me. It is the technology itself and the development of nuclear power in South Africa that has resulted in the deprivation of the majority that couldn’t get electricity.

Some of my colleagues have cancer but they will deny that is because they were exposed to radiation at the plant. Half of a guy's face was rotting away through radiation. He recently passed away. When you see these things you have no other option but to react humanely.

I don’t believe there is a way of making nuclear safe. Koeberg and Pelindaba have been running for close to 40 years but there has never been an epidemiological study on workers in South Africa.

Elsewhere these studies have been done showing the harmful effects but when you engage closely, the scientists that did that research are made out to be mavericks.

When you go for an x-ray at hospital, the radiographer will stand behind a shielded window or they will have lead aprons to protect them against certain types of radiation.

But at nuclear plants nothing can stop this – only water can minimise the effects of the neutrons that you are bombarded with. The radiation creates distortions in your cell structure, it causes various types of cancer, it also affects your white blood cells.

I have been to Russia, Germany, France, to UK and US and seen their nuclear plants. In South Korea they have few other options but nuclear – they have no coal, they don’t have the intensity of the sun that we have here and their winters are very cold.

What is Num's view on the energy mix?We have an abundance of coal in this country and as Num we say there are clean coal technologies.

We believe we must have at least 70% base-load from coal and mix the other 30%. If nuclear is included in the remaining 30% then the bulk of the money will be allocated to nuclear and other energy sources won't be able to compete. We need to exploit our resources like wind, sun, coal and biomass.

What about the view that nuclear energy is clean?The view that nuclear is clean is a misnomer. Right through the process, from mining to processing the uranium and the generation of electricity, carbon is released into the atmosphere. Those in favour of nuclear will say it is clean because they don’t look at the total process.

What is Num doing to influence government's views?We are lobbying government, plus various departments involved – DPE and DME; we are also talking to portfolio committees and making our views known.


Numsa News