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Imagine revolutionaries in control of Africa’s only nuclear power plant

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Ismail Lagardien is a writer, columnist and political economist with extensive exposure and experience in global political economic affairs. He was educated at the London School of Economics, and holds a PhD in International Political Economy.

We should be horrified at the thought that Koeberg may end up like Prasa, the Post Office, Eskom, Denel and so on, which are all in various states of collapse, held together with sticky tape like a rickety minibus taxi, and on a mound of scrap metal, ready for the smelters.

On the way into Cape Town, I pass Somerset West. On the south bank of the N2 there is what I assume to be a scrap metal smelter. There is always a large mound of mangled metal and car bodies squashed into squares and ready for the smelters. Sometimes I smile, a wry smile, and imagine that the mound of scrap metal represents the detritus of South African state-owned enterprises and agencies.

Further along the N2, I drift into the slow lane to avoid the maddening rush of minivan taxis that force drivers out of the fast lane and speed along, clearly in violation of several traffic laws. Often these taxis have “windows” that are essentially plastic sheets stuck in place with brown tape, broken lights and rickety paraphernalia. What always seems to be in perfect working condition is the music; the booming beats…

Once I reach Cape Town, I am always enthralled by the beauty and tranquillity of Table Bay as I drive along Philip Kgosana Drive, which has always, at least since the age of 14 when I first visited Cape Town, been my favourite road. The beauty and tranquillity viewed from up high are soon disturbed when I remember that a little way north along the West Coast is the Koeberg nuclear power station, and it is run by the nomenklatura of the liberation movement that governs us. I think about the permissibility of patchwork repairs and rickety taxis. I think about that mound of scrap metal and the ruins of the country’s state-owned enterprises and agencies.

Imagine Koeberg in the hands of the revolutionaries

Shaken from my reverie while driving along Philip Kgosana Drive, I feel a sudden horripilation that Koeberg may end up like Prasa, the Post Office, Eskom, Denel and so on, all in various states of collapse held together with sticky tape like a rickety minibus taxi, and on that mound of scrap metal I always see along the N2, ready for the smelters.

I imagine the genius of fake doctorates and engineers, the fallen angels and a host of indispensable corruptibles: the vision, superior logic and wisdom of Floyd Shivambu, or the I-wrote-my-own-doctoral-dissertation Mbuyiseni Ndlozi being in charge of Koeberg Nuclear Power Station. I also remember Ace Magashule’s diktat that loyal cadres of the liberation movement that governs us should not vote on their conscience but on the basis of what the ANC expected.

To better understand the horror when those who are loyal to Marxist Leninism and Lenin’s democratic centralism take control of a nuclear power station, we can go back to April 1986 and the Chernobyl disaster. Among the main reasons why the disaster unfolded the way that it did was because the main decision makers in the plant were loyal to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and averse to acting on their conscience.

Remember Magashule’s diktat. We should be clear; the former Soviet Union had the technology. A country that can send a person into space is not exactly lacking in technological savvy — although by the 1980s the Soviet Union had fallen behind the rest of the world.

Blame it on white monopoly capital and Western imperialists

Here lies a second problem — the Soviet Union was opposed to international collaboration and transparency. This is echoed by the liberation movement that governs us, the revolutionaries (like Irvin Jim of Numsa) and the EFF’s aversion to cooperation with liberal internationalists, “bourgeois capitalists”, “imperialists” and “white monopoly capital”.

It is important to remember (as Milan Zgersky of the Moscow State Law Academy reminded us) that the former Soviet Union “was the only nuclear country in the world without its own laws regulating the use of nuclear energy and its safety”.

In the lexicon of the EFF, the RET and much of the liberation movement that governs us, international collaboration with liberal internationalists, or anyone associated with “white monopoly capital” or “imperialism” is not unlike the CPSU ignoring what Zgersky described as “laws regulating the use of nuclear energy and its safety”. Moreover, the Soviet politburo knew that there were technical and design problems at Chernobyl, but chose to ignore them.

If the CPSU had been transparent, collaborated internationally, and the head of the plant actually heeded the advice of actual engineers — rather than toeing the party line (remember Magashule’s diktat) — there is a possibility that Chernobyl could have been shut down, and the disaster averted.

Declassified Ukrainian archival material has shown that in the hours before the Chernobyl explosion, the CPSU and KGB were more concerned about threats to image and legitimacy than they were about the social and political (the human) impact of the disaster.

The former Soviet Union was especially critical and opposed to the free flow of information. With respect to the free press, Vladimir Lenin said he was aware of Western concepts of free speech and press, but considered them bourgeois notions to be debunked: “What kind of freedom do these [bourgeois] newspapers want? Isn’t it freedom to buy rolls of newsprint and hire crowds of pen pushers? We must escape from the freedom of press dependent on capital. This is a matter of principle.”

The wilful refusal by the CPSU to engage in international cooperation “revealed a sharp disparity in nuclear design and operational safety standards. The first lesson that emerged from Chernobyl was the direct relevance of international cooperation to nuclear safety. The accident also made clear that nuclear and radiological risks transcend national borders; that… an accident anywhere is an accident everywhere”.

We know today that “what might be called the most positive aspect of ‘Chernobyl’s legacy’ is today’s global nuclear safety regime. Had this level of cooperation already been in place in the mid-1980s, the Chernobyl accident arguably could have been prevented,” according to Muhamed ElBaradei, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Imagine, now, fake engineers and revolutionaries who will not allow transparency and or collaboration with liberal internationalists, who view multilateralism as latter-day imperialism, who adhere to the secrecy and diktats of sticking to party lines, and who are openly hostile to a free press, at the control panel of Koeberg nuclear power station.

Suddenly that rickety minibus taxi with the plastic windows stuck in place with tape — and state-owned enterprises on (a metaphorical) scrap heap waiting for the smelters, corruption, cutting corners and self-absolution from all wrongdoing — turn proximity to South Africa’s only nuclear power station into a nightmare.

Since the Chernobyl disaster, international cooperation has become a hallmark of nuclear safety with innumerable peer reviews, safety upgrades, bilateral and multilateral assistance efforts, safety conventions, and the body of globally recognised safety standards. Bear in mind that there is a growing tendency among the revolutionaries and their academic lickspittles that South Africa and Africa must “decouple” from the global political economy and the institutions on which it is built. DM

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All Comments 5

  • I shudder to think of what would happen if the likes of Brian M., Ace M. or similar would happen to the beautiful Mother City…
    And to my beloved South Africa …

  • I shudder to think of what would happen if the likes of Brian M., Ace M. or similar were in charge at Koeberg – and what would then happen to the beautiful Mother City… And to my beloved South Africa …

  • A searing critique of the current status quo. What it fails to observe in its comedic reference to smelters, is that that the ‘scrap’ from Koeberg would probably not be ‘fit’ to be smelted … unless you want to produce a radio-active end product, not that it would concern the EFF or RET type. Except that ‘they’ would not be directly involved in the process : i.e. let some other ‘suckers’ carry that can ! Similar to the nuclear nightmare Ismail refers to, is the Free State ‘asbestos’ saga for which the credit must go to our one and only Ace, for ‘engineering’ it !

  • This article shows an in depth lack of knowledge about nuclear power, Chernobyl, Koeberg or related topics. Does he think it is possible that all his whimsical while driving thoughts are not, perhaps, incorrect ? Does the DM not have editors ?

  • Your speculation is terrifying and spot on. The risk is not just in the old infrastructure at Koeberg it is in the derelict ediface of leninist/Marxist theory that the ANC clings to against all reason

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