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
“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.