Our Burning Planet

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Thyspunt nuke plant plan: For and against bang heads

A general view of the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station near Melkbos on February 16, 2021 in Cape Town, South Africa. It is reported that both Eskom and the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) have dismissed safety claims raised by activists that sea air corrosion at the Koeberg containment building endangers the public. (Photo by Gallo Images/Shaun Roy)

In public hearings this week residents of Thyspunt and environmental activists called on the national nuclear regulator to deny Eskom a licence for a new nuclear power plant in the area — while pro-licence companies claimed it would be good for the Eastern Cape economy.

In two days of public hearings in St Francis Bay and Jefferys Bay on Wednesday and Thursday, local residents and environmental activists vehemently opposed Eskom’s application for a nuclear installation at nearby Thyspunt.

The public hearing was organised by the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) to gather community input on the proposed power plant.

Thyspunt is located on the coastal shoreline 4km east of Oyster Bay and 12km west of St Francis Bay. The site has been in Eskom’s planning for a long time for a possible second South African nuclear station.

According to NNR board chairperson Dr Tapelo Motshudi, an advert was published on 24 June calling for written comments to be submitted by 31 July. There were about 5,500 written responses, 1,368 of them from an online nuclear petition called “Say no to nuclear plans”.  The deadline for oral presentations was 15 August and 18 presentations were approved for the hearing.

At the hearing, Climate Justice’s Ulrich Steenkamp called on Eskom to leave the heritage site of peoples’ graves alone.

“The shifting sand dunes are important in our culture. Yes, they move over time by geological forces like wind, however some of them contain remains and artefacts of high Khoe and San people,” Steenkamp explained.

He said social impacts of a power plant included a boom in construction jobs leading to a decline in tourism, agriculture and blue economy jobs.

“There will be life-form mutations due to radiation, a decline in food security and human health impacts. The potential mutations in local organic crops and the local dairy industry may face potential problems (due to radiation),” he said.

Steenkamp said his group was calling on the government to invest in locally available renewable energy options, as well as focusing on developing tourist attractions based on the Khoe and San heritage.

In his presentation, Eskom Holdings chief nuclear officer Riedewaan Bakardien said Eskom started the Nuclear Siting Investigation Programme (NSIP) in the early 1980s, with a view to identifying and ranking candidate sites suitable for development of a new nuclear installation in anticipation of expanding the nuclear programme in South Africa.

“The driving incentive was to secure sites as soon as possible before development at these sites precludes their selection and hence acquisition and use. Due to long lead times necessary to identify, select and reconfirm the suitability of sites and also to obtain the required licences, upfront site selection was seen as a good strategic intent that will reduce timelines associated with the licensing, construction and operation of the new nuclear installation,” he said.

Bakardien said Eskom had done detailed investigation studies to assess the suitability of the Thyspunt site and did not find any factors that could disqualify the site from accommodating a nuclear installation.

This took into account factors such as:

  • External hazards important to the safe design and operation of the installation, including seismic hazard analysis and tsunami hazard;
  • Detailed site characteristics such as geotechnical, hydrological and meteorological investigation were performed;
  • Potential radiological impact to the public and the environment;
  • Development and implementation of emergency plans; and
  •  Security.

“The work performed by Eskom complies with relevant governing Acts and regulations … and appropriate quality and safety measures were put in place during investigations. Appropriate methods following international codes and standards were adopted and applied throughout the validation of Thyspunt and confirmation of the suitability of the site,” he added.

Bakardien said that, in March 2016, Eskom submitted a separate application for Nuclear Installation Site Licences (NISL) to the national nuclear regulator for the Thyspunt and Duynefontyn sites.

“The application was made in terms of section 21 of the National Nuclear Regulatory Act 47 of 1999 (supported by government notice No R.927 of 11 November 2011,  Regulation in terms of Section 36, read with Section 47 of the National Nuclear Regulatory Act 47 of 1999 on licensing of sites for new nuclear installation. In support of the NISL application, Eskom submitted the Thyspunt Site Safety Report and other supporting documentation as required by regulation 5(1)-5(9) ,” he said.

The licence granted under this application will be valid for an indefinite period of time in accordance with the siting regulation.

Francesca de Gasparis of the Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute (SAFCEI) said there was no need for a NISL at Thyspunt as the Eskom CEO had indicated that there was an inadequate balance sheet at Eskom for a new nuclear site.

“The Integrated Resource Plan (IRP2019) makes no mention of a new nuclear power,” she added. “There is no EIA authorisation for a new nuclear power station at Thyspunt.”

De Gasparis insisted that an NISL should be refused in the absence of an environmental authorisation for the Thyspunt site.

“The environmental authorisation granted authorisation for the Duynefontein site in the Western Cape and not the Thyspunt site. The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) record of decision indicates, among other things, that the overall impacts associated with the Duynefontein site are materially lower than those in Thyspunt. In other words, Duynefontein is the preferred site,” she said.

She also pointed out that inadequate information had been made available to enable people to participate meaningfully in the public consultation process.

“The Thyspunt NISL application fails to identify and provide information on the health, environmental and socio-economic consequences of a catastrophic, beyond-design accident of the proposed nuclear power station at the Thyspunt site,” she said.

Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) and Thyspunt Alliance member Gary Koekemoer said Eskom’s application had no plume path analysis, no emergency response consideration, such as evacuation route and local emergency response capability.

“It does not address the earthquake, flood risks as those are the key things that needed to be addressed. The population estimates and site specifics are outdated. There is no assessment of climate change into the rise of sea levels impact. This is a copy and paste of their 2016 report,” said Koekemoer.

Kromme Enviro Trust deputy chair and Thyspunt Alliance member Maggie Langlands said Eskom’s application was dated five years ago, the public information document was dated two years ago and the proportional-integral-derivative (PID) data  was 20 years out of date.

“This suggests carelessness, lack of concern for the process. On emergency evacuation there is only one access road to the town with two lanes and a river bridge. In case of evacuation, how will 8,000 to 10,000 and potentially 20,000 people, a significant number of whom have no personal transport, evacuate? In conclusion, Thyspunt is unsuitable as a nuclear facility site,” she said.

Earthlife Africa’s Makoma Likalakala said no EIA had been done for potential nuclear reactors at the Thyspunt site.

“The applicant’s potential regional impacts on the proposed project are not availed and specialist studies are not shared for public comment. There is missing information so we cannot make sound decisions. If this thing is constructed in this area, our medicinal herbs, food security, fauna and flora will be extinct,” she said.

Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa (NIASA) managing director Knox Msebenzi said his association supported the Thyspunt NISL application.

“The site will give us an opportunity to expand in the nuclear industry and empower other people,” he said.

Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) representative Liz McDaid said the group was also saying “no” to a new nuclear power plant.

“There is outstanding environmental information as the information supplied by Eskom is outdated. We know that Eskom has no money; it’s concerning that Eskom resources are being put into this process when they should be put into other things. The Zondo Commission [of Inquiry into State Capture] has revealed how the Cabinet was misled in the understatement of nuclear costs. This cannot happen again; we need transparency,” said McDaid.

Des Muller of the South African Nuclear Build Platform said the Thyspunt site had been earmarked for South Africa’s nuclear energy expansion programme since 1985.

“Eskom has decades of environmental, seismic and marine data,” explained Muller. “Many public consultation processes and EIAs found no fatal flaws for the development of a nuclear power plant on the site … extensive local community development programs are key.”

He said baseload electricity from Eastern Cape would secure regional energy supplies and reduce significant transmission losses.

“Thyspunt is surrounded by highly skilled motor manufacturing industries that would benefit from reliable clean energy and are positioned to be part of the nuclear manufacturing supply chain. Nuclear energy at Thyspunt will stabilise renewable energy and balance the grid. Desalination and green hydrogen is a plus,” he said.

Muller said nuclear energy would deliver exactly what Eastern Cape needed. DM/OBP.

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All Comments 13

  • What I think everyone agrees with to a greater or lesser degree is that fossil fuels are on their way out.

    Also a few realities:
    1. It doesn’t matter where a power plant / cell phone tower / or / or / site is chosen, there will always be those negatively affected.
    2. Stemming from 1, a “very important reason” will always be mooted as to why it would be “horrendous” to build a power plant / cell phone tower / or / or / in a selected location.

    What I’m saying I suppose is that there will unfortunately always be some “casualties of war” in this type of exercise.

    (please note I’m not judging here, as I would be exactly the same if I was negatively affected)

  • Say no to nuclear. Sweden has 3 nuclear plants and will soon run out of storage space for nuclear waste. The future of our planet rests with renewables.

  • Recent media articles this week say the green energy generated in the NC is too much for Eskom to use in that area.
    Some IPP’s will not be allowed to connect to the grid. Now Mantashe wants to build a nuclear power station??
    Surely a couple of HV power lines across the country would make more sense.

  • Nuclear power got a bad rep in South Africa because of its association with Zuma and corruption. There are pros and cons for nuclear and cool heads need to be kept in this debate.
    An interesting fact is that Cape Town has seen no adverse effects – as far as I am aware.
    The bottom line is that coal power needs to be phased out sooner than later.

  • “There will be life-form mutations due to radiation, a decline in food security and human health impacts.”
    Is it really too much to expect these professional environmental complainers to actually understand a little basic science? The presence of a nuclear power plant does not make any significant increase in radiation levels above the normal natural background levels.

    “a boom in construction jobs leading to a decline in tourism, agriculture and blue economy jobs”
    I fail to understand the logic behind this statement. Is he saying that there is already 100% employment in the area, so no spare labour? Really? I didn’t know that the Eastern Cape had zero unemployment. What’s their secret?

  • There is an easy way to stop nuclear : approve it subject to IPP doing a PPA like the renewable people do. (Going by the Finland project, nuclear projects are 350% of budget and a decade late)

    No IPP will get funding to build a nuclear plant on the basis of a fixed price per kWh and huge penalties for delays. Or, that price per kWh in today’s terms would need to be 300c/kWh

    Whatever happens, Eskom must be forced to contract this turnkey EPC. They have NEVER since WWII delivered any power station on time and on budget, it will not happen with the most expensive, most complex and famously late nuclear.

  • FOR:
    Nuclear power has the lowest baseload cost of any source. The marginal cost of running or not running is almost zero. It’s so cheap that utilities very seldom call for a reduction in output, leading to the common fallacy that nuclear “can’t load follow”. Actually, 100% – 0% in less than 30 seconds. 20% increase every minute, so 5 minutes to full output is easily possible. PWR reactors are based on submarine designs, so obviously react quickly.

    Generation IV designs are inherently safe. Switch it off and walk away safe.

    Nuclear power is one of the safest form of energy generation. Deaths per TWh generated:
    Brown Coal 32.72
    Coal 24.62
    Oil 18.43
    Biomass 4.36
    Gas 2.82
    Nuclear 0.07
    Wind 0.04
    Hydropower 0.02
    Solar 0.02
    Deaths measured in terms of accidents and air pollution.

    AGAINST
    Current designs are over-engineered to address too many fears, which makes them much more complicated and expensive than needed. The spurious arguments at this hearing are a prime example, and make the process take much longer.

    I don’t trust this Government and their ANC deployees to do any large project without stealing us blind. Or even to follow decent design principles and standard project management practices.
    I don’t trust the Russians at all.
    If the plant is built as a Build-Operate-Transfer contract, then let this be with a reputable company, not a foreign government.

    • William:

      Have to disagree on your cost model, and Lazard’s LCOE also disagrees.

      Nuclear sits at $0.15 and solar and wind at about $0.035 per kWh.

      Yes one has to look at storage but that ranges wildly from pumped storage, compressed air and molten salt to batteries.

      There is NOBODY that will be able to pitch a nuclear IPP offering at less than a renewable plus storage project. I can do 7000h a year solar plus storage at $0.12 with my eyes closed and get full funding and make 18% IRR.

      In fact nobody pitches nuclear on IPP basis because they do not have the trust in their cost & duration budgets to attempt it.

      I wish we could do nuclear at what it could cost and drop coal, but new nuclear proven cost is abysmal.

    • Please find the DM article of 4 Oct 2019 by Mark Swilling :Wake up, Everyone: ANC NEC’s energy statement is a real New Dawn for South Africa.
      It has I believe honest prices of different kind of electricity production.
      In all what I understand of it, is that nuclear is massively complicated and expensive to build and decommission, not so much in running, refueling and maintenance.
      The maybe over engineered nuclear plants still under construction by EDF/Areva in France: Flamandville, UK: Hinckley Point and in Finland are all total disasters. In time and 4-5 times over budget.

  • The ANC cut their teeth on the Arms Deal, perfected the system on Kusuli and Medupi and now they are ready to go nuclear! What an opportunity.