The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry

Death and disease among uranium workers in Rio Tinto’s mines

uranium-oreUranium workers dying after time at Namibia mine, report warns

Miners who dug ore to supply the military found to be dying of cancers and other illnesses at Rio Tinto’s Rössing mine  Miners who dug uranium ore that supplied the British and US military in the 1970s with the raw material for bombs and civil nuclear power are reported to be dying of cancers and unexplained illnesses after working in one of Africa‘s largest mines.

A study based on questionnaires of current and former workers at the giant Rio Tinto-owned Rössing uranium mine in Namibia says that everyone questioned was aware of people who are now suffering lung infections and unknown illnesses thought to be linked to their work.

The mine, in the Namib desert, produces around 7% of the world’s uranium but was operated with rudimentary safety when it opened in 1976. “People get sick. We are seeing it in people that have worked for Rössing for a long time. They just go back and die after working at Rössing,” one man told researchers working with Earthlife Namibia and the Labour Resource and Research Institute.

The study, which is expected to be published this week, accepts that working conditions in the mine have greatly improved but says that all workers questioned said that they were exposed to high levels of dust.

“Two current workers are on sick leave since 2000 and 2003. One worked as a laboratory technician for 24 years and claims to have proof he was radiated,” says a summary of the paper seen by the Guardian.

Rössing, which mines millions of tonnes of rock a year to extract uranium, employs more than 1,500 people. “Most workers stated that they are not informed about their health conditions and do not know if they have been exposed to radiation or not. Some workers said they consulted a private doctor to get a second opinion,” say the authors.

“The older workers all said they know miners dying of cancers and other illnesses. Many of these are now retired and many have already died of cancers,” says the report.

Aerial view of the discharge channels from Rössing, the world’s largest opencast uranium mine. Photograph: Yann Arthus-Bertrand/CorbisA spokesman for Rio Tinto said that Rössing has been recognised by independent consultants as one of the world’s safest mines. “The health and safety of our employees is the top priority. We have health management systems in place to make sure that everyone goes home safe and healthy every day. Effective controls ensure that radiation exposures to employees are kept well below the Rössing standard for occupational radiation exposure.

“The company keeps detailed records of the health status of its workforce from the day of employment to the day they leave the company. It therefore does not need to speculate on health issues of its employees.”

One former worker said: “Yes, I have cancer now. In the beginning they [Rio Tinto] did not want to give money for the treatment but later when they referred me to a doctor for an operation they gave me money for treatment.”

“Doctors were told not to inform us with our results or tell our illness. They only supply you with medications when you are totally finished up or about to die,” said another.

During the first years of operation, Rössing operated with a migrant labour system which the International Commission of Jurists declared illegal and said was similar to slavery. Black workers lived on the mine premises and were exposed to dust and radiation 24 hours a day and the mine became the focus for protests by anti-apartheid and anti-nuclear groups.

Shares in the mine are owned 69% by UK-based Rio Tinto, and 15% by the government of Iran. The Namibian government has denied supplying Iran with Namibian uranium which could be used for nuclear weapons.

The Erongo region is home to Rössing mine, the oldest and third-largest producer of uranium in the world. The mine sustains the small satellite town (population 7,600) of Arandis, which is visible near the top of the image. Photograph: ALI/EO-1/NASA“Uranium companies generally deny that workers get sick because of exposure to radiation. They blame the bad health conditions to unhealthy lifestyles such as eating habits, tobacco smoking and alcohol,” says the study.

Former Rössing mineworkers and people from communities adversely affected by Rio Tinto mines in west Papua, Madagascar, Namibia, Mongolia and the US will petition Rio Tinto shareholders at Tuesday’s annual meeting in London.

“Rio Tinto is enormous. Its history of attacks on workers’ rights, and environmental destruction has had a particularly damaging impact across the world,” said Richard Solly, co-ordinator of LondonMining Network, an alliance of human rights, development, environmental and solidarity groups.

April 16, 2014 Posted by | AFRICA, health, South Africa, Uranium | Leave a comment

South Africa’s growth in renewable energy

Africa: South Africa to Procure Still More Renewable Energy APRIL 2014 South Africa’s Department of Energy is to increase the amount of energy it will be procuring under the third window of its renewable energy programme for independent power producers, Energy Minister Ben Martins announced on Tuesday.

In November, the department signed agreements with 17 new preferred bidders in the third round of the programme, following the signing off of 47 projects in the first and second rounds, bringing to 64 the total number of renewable energy projects approved by the government since December 2011.

Once they are all operational, the 64 projects – representing foreign and domestic investment of over R100-billion – will add around 3 900 megawatts (MW) of wind, solar photovoltaic and concentrating solar power to South Africa’s energy mix.

On Tuesday, Martins said in a statement that this department would be allocating additional megawatts to the third window of the programme, thus including additional bidders, due to the increasingly competitive pricing offered by the round three bids.

Business Day reported in November that the average price offered for power generated from wind – which received the bulk of the third-round allocation – had dropped from R11.43 per kilowatt hour (kWh) in the first round to R6.65/kWh in the third round.

“The department will, in this regard, follow due procurement process to include additional bidders under window 3,” Martins said, giving no further specifics.

He added that submissions for the fourth window of the programme, which entails the procurement of a further 1 000 MW of renewable energy, was on track to close in August. The programme has five windows altogether.

While renewable energy accounted for less than 1% of South Africa’s energy mix in 2012, this is expected to reach 12% by 2020. According to research released in October by analysts Frost & Sullivan, this would place South Africa in the “global top 15 countries” with regard to the implementation of renewable energy projects.

Announcing the latest 17 preferred bidders in November, Martins noted that South Africa was currently rated as the 12th most attractive investment destination for renewable energy.

“This bodes very well for South Africa, as the programme has achieved international acclaim for fairness, transparency and certainty of programme,” Martins said, adding that there had been a progressive increase in the local content and job creation numbers offered by the bidders.

The department’s director-general, Nelly Magubane, said that some bidders had exceeded the local content requirement of no less than 40%, with some indicating that their projects would involve up to 56% local content.

Martins said the energy sector was expected to play a major role in creating green sector jobs, developing skills and transferring technology into South Africa’s economy.

April 16, 2014 Posted by | renewable, South Africa | Leave a comment

Employment boost for South Africa due to renewable energy projects

Green energy IPPs create 14 000 jobs April 14 2014  Independent power producers (IPPs) using renewable energy had created about 14 000 jobs over the past three years, Energy Minister Ben Martins said on Friday. “One of the imperatives of government is to ensure that all departments assist in job creation. Through the independent power producers programme, more than 14 000 have been created,” Martins said following a summit with 61 IPPs. “At the meeting, we acknowledged and expressed appreciation of the fact that to date more than R100 billion has been invested into this particular sector.” IPPs are entities which either own and or operate facilities that generate electric power. They then sell the power to a utility, central government buyer or to end users. The meeting was also attended by representatives of the Development Bank of Southern Africa, Eskom and the Public Investment Corporation. Diplomats representing Denmark, Spain, Germany, Norway, and the UK were also present at the Pretoria meeting. Martins said the IPP project had brought significant direct foreign investment. – Sapa

April 16, 2014 Posted by | employment, renewable, South Africa | Leave a comment

Nuclear power is getting just too expensive for South Africa

nuclear-costs1Nuclear development in South Africa likely on hold unless funds incorporated from private sector, Enformable Lucas W Hixson 19 Mar 14  South African President Jacob Zuma and Energy Minister Ben Martins have continuously committed the nation to build up a nuclear industry.

The government has adopted a 20-year Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) which says that coal, nuclear, hydro, shale gas, and renewable energy are all included in potential generation methods of increasing the nation’s power supply.  The IRP is revised every two years, the latest update proposes that the nation delay construction of more nuclear plants and instead focus more on coal, hydro and gas.

Energy Minister Martins has said that South Africa’s goal is to be self-sufficient in all aspects of the nuclear energy industry, but there are concerns about whether South Africa’s construction industry is even large enough to handle the additional resources and manpower which would be required.

President Zuma announced that the South African government would work to procure 9,600 MW of energy from nuclear power, based on the IRP released in 2010.  The new IRP said that little or no nuclear power will be required.

If President Zuma’s goal of installing 9,600 MW of nuclear energy, the government must find at least 1 trillion rand ($93.2 billion USD), to support a nuclear fleet of three new nuclear power plants in South Africa.

On Tuesday, Rob Adam, president of the Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa and director of the construction group Aveng, spoke at an energy conference in Johannesburg and told attendees that the government would likely be forced to incorporate funds from the private sector to invest in the nuclear industry in South Africa…….

Eskom is not currently fiscally stable enough to finance a nuclear power plant.  According to experts in South Africa, given the nation’s tight fiscal budget, it is extremely unlikely that the government would be able to allocate any funds for the proposed nuclear build.

The nuclear proposal is seemingly causing a rift in the South African government.  Some agencies like the departments of energy, public enterprises, trade and industry to name a few are big proponents of a nuclear build, while other agencies like the National Planning Commission and the treasury are concerned with the high costs of nuclear energy.

March 20, 2014 Posted by | politics, South Africa | Leave a comment

Confusion and secrecy over costs of proposed nuclear energy for South Africa

secret-agent-SmCan we afford it?
The department’s nuclear costs study is understood to be complete, but the findings have not been made public.

flag-S.AfricaNuclear plan slips under budget radar Mail & Guardian, Africa, 28 FEB 2014  LIONEL FAULL If it goes ahead it will be SA’s largest contract ever, yet Pravin Gordhan failed to mention it.  Indications of policy confusion at the highest levels of the government were reinforced this week when the budget failed to build on President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation pronouncement that “we expect to conclude the procurement of 9 600MW of nuclear energy”.

The cost of 9 600MW of nuclear power has been estimated at anything between R400-billion and more than R1-trillion, and would dwarf any other tender in South Africa’s history.

In contrast with Zuma’s definitive pronouncement for the coming year, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan did not mention nuclear at all in his budget speech. He mentioned renewables four times, and shale gas exploration once.

Even the energy department, in the estimates of national expenditure that accompany the budget, did not commit to any looming procurement decisions. Continue reading

March 1, 2014 Posted by | South Africa | Leave a comment

One nation that abandoned nuclear weapons – South Africa

Unfortunately, South Africa is still the only state that has ever voluntarily dismantled its entire nuclear weapons capability. Nuclear states continue to do lip service to the goal of nuclear disarmament, but little has been achieved in practice. South Africa has illustrated that long-term security can be far better assured by the abrogation of nuclear weapons than by their retention.

flag-S.AfricaSouth Africa: Nation that gave up its nuclear arsenal The solution was not the acquisition of greater military power through the development of nuclear weapons but the abolition of apartheid  Gulf Times, F.W. de Klerk Former president of South Africa December 25, 2013It will be a mistake to think that the end of the Cold War also ended the threat posed by nuclear weapons. Nuclear-armed states continue to deploy huge arsenals of nuclear weapons, other states continue with their efforts to acquire nuclear weapons and there is the alarming possibility that such weapons may fall into the hands of terrorists. Accordingly, it may be helpful to consider the factors that led South Africa to develop nuclear weapons in the 1970s and the reasons why it decided to dismantle them in 1989…..

Soon after I became president in 1989, foreign minister Pik Botha urged me to take two key steps if we wished to improve South Africa’s relationship with the world: The first was to release Nelson Mandela and the second was to dismantle our nuclear weapons and accede to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Continue reading

December 27, 2013 Posted by | South Africa, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Russia aggressively marketing nuclear power to South Africa


the draft Russian agreement, which Business Day has seen, had a veto clause, which would allow the parties to block the involvement of a third country


Several countries are jockeying for position in South Africa’s nuclear build programme, which envisages the construction of three nuclear power plants to supply 9,600MW at the cost of at least R1-trillion. The government has said the procurement process is close to finalised and there is high expectation among bidders that it will go ahead next year.


This week, the temperature over the nuclear build was further heightened when state-owned Russian corporation Rosatom hosted a nuclear suppliers’ forum in Johannesburg “with the aim of establishing and developing lasting partnerships in South Africa”.

At the forum on Monday, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa (Necsa) and a Rosatom subsidiary. Continue reading

November 30, 2013 Posted by | marketing, Russia, South Africa | Leave a comment

Stolen uranium seized in Durban

Durban uranium stash sparks nuclear alert 2013-11-19  Rowan Philip and Jonathan Erasmus, The Witness  Durban – A shopping bag filled with stolen uranium has been seized in a sting operation in Durban, triggering alarm among local and international nuclear watchdog agencies.

The kilogram of the radioactive material confiscated is believed to be a mere sample from a much larger batch, for which police are now hunting.

In a joint operation involving the Durban organised crime unit, crime intelligence and the department of minerals and energy, two men were arrested in their car opposite a shopping centre on the Bluff, following an informant’s tip-off…..


November 20, 2013 Posted by | incidents, South Africa | Leave a comment

South Africa’s speedy connection – solar energy to the grid

graph-solar-upflag-S.AfricaSouth African solar plant connects to the grid three months ahead of schedule, Renewable Energy Magazine, Robin Whitlock Friday, 15 November 2013 The 75MW Kalkbult solar plant will generate 135 million kilowatt hours per year and displace 115,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions A solar plant built by Scatech Solar in cooperation with local partners has become the first utility-scale renewable energy facility to supply electricity to South African public utility Eskom after connecting to the country’s electricity grid three months ahead of schedule.

The 75MW Kalkbult solar PV plant near Petrusville in the Northern Cape, was officially opened on Tuesday 12thNovember.  It will generate 135 million kilowatt hours per year, equivalent to the annual electricity consumption of 33,000 households. The plant covers 105 hectares of a working sheep farm and consists of 312,000 solar panels linked to inverters, transformers and a high-voltage sub-station. More than 600 people were employed during its construction, many from the local community…….

The plant is among 47 solar, wind and mini-hydro projects awarded 20-year electricity generation contracts under the South African government’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP), introduced three years ago by the Department of Energy. Total investment in the programme is estimated at R74 billion which will climb above R100 billion following the government’s acceptance of 17 new bids.  The aim of the programme is to help the country combat climate change by reducing its current near-total dependence on coal-based electricity and accompanying high level of greenhouse gas emissions. The Kalbult plant is intended to displace annual greenhouse gas emissions of 115,000 tons.

The project will also add momentum to the country’s Green Economy Accord signed three years ago with the aim of creating 300,000 new jobs in renewable energy generation, energy efficiency, biofuel production, manufacturing in support of green projects and natural resource conservation and rehabilitation.

November 16, 2013 Posted by | renewable, South Africa | Leave a comment

African bank backs renewable energy

flag-S.AfricaAfrica must look at renewable energy Standard Bank   Wed, 2013/10/30 Power is key to economic growth and competitiveness in Africa. The continent has massive potential to use renewable energy sources as it seeks to address an electricity shortage that has left more than half of the continent’s one billion people without access to power. Ntlai Mosiah, who heads up the Power, Infrastructure piggy-ban-renewables& TMT (Technology, Media, Telecoms) team at Standard Bank Group, looks at the opportunities and costs of untapping this resource.

Questions have been raised about whether renewable energy might be too expensive for Africa given the abundance of cheap coal, but it is now clear that this has changed as the cost of renewable technology is steadily falling while the capital expenditure costs of coal-fired power stations are rising Continue reading

October 31, 2013 Posted by | business and costs, renewable, South Africa | Leave a comment

South African govt influenced by coal industry to hold back renewable energy

flag-S.AfricaSA renewable energy held up by politics, says Greenpeace News 24 Duncan Alfreds, 17 Oct 13 Duncan Alfreds Cape Town – Renewable energy has proven itself and the government should move ahead swiftly with implementation, an environmental organisation has urged.

“It has been proven that there are no technical or economic barriers to renewable energy, leaving only the lack of political will as a barrier to RE,” Ruth Mhlanga, Greenpeace Africa Youth and solutions campaigner told News24.

She accused the government of being influenced by incumbent industry players to ensure that the status quo of energy supply networks remained unchanged.

“Vested interests in the fossil fuel industry with strong political ties use this influence to promote investments in fossil fuels rather than renewable energy,” said Mhlanga.

Recently, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies announced plans for a third massive coal-fired power station dubbed “Coal 3″ though the Medupi and Kusile projects have been hampered by delays and allegations of poor workmanship……

Greenpeace went further, saying that the investment into coal-fired plants was a waste of money that could have been used to kick-start a vibrant renewable energy sector.

“In fact, the huge problems at both Medupi and Kusile clearly show that new investments in coal are likely to sabotage the South African economy, and renewable energy can come online and feed into the electricity grid far more quickly and more cheaply than coal can,” Mhlanga said.

It does appear that the Cabinet is not fully united behind the idea of a third coal-fired power plant.

Beeld reported that Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom said government would have to rethink its plans for a third mega coal-fired power station…….

Coal power also impacts negatively on the environment and Greenpeace said that South Africans ought to consider the true cost of fossil fuel electricity generation.

“Delays and poor delivery are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to coal. There are also major hidden costs related to water scarcity, human health impacts and climate change – amounting to billions of rands every year, and it is ordinary South Africans who have to pay the price,” said Melita Steele, Greenpeace Africa Climate and Energy campaigner.

October 17, 2013 Posted by | politics, South Africa | Leave a comment

Even Eskom admits nuclear power is by far South Africa’s most expensive energy option

nuclear-costs1The intended nuclear plan would be “very costly” and if anything went wrong it would have a devastating impact on people and the environment

Doubts over nuclear costs Business Report (South Africa) September 29 2013   By Donwald Pressly. REUTERS The Government is forging ahead with its nuclear build programme to boost the electricity supply although details of its costings are scant, but Eskom’s own figures indicate it will be the most expensive option.

In the wake of an announcement on Thursday by Energy Minister Ben Martins that a flag-S.Africadetailed costing and the extent of the nuclear programme would be made known before the end of the financial year, a range of organisations have come out against the government’s stance in favour of extending South Africa’s nuclear power footprint beyond Koeberg…….

.While Eskom has not provided recent build programme cost estimates, it did provide comparative figures in its third multiyear price determination application to Nersa of gas, coal, wind, solar and concentrated solar power (CSP). Nuclear ended up being the most expensive by far. Continue reading

September 30, 2013 Posted by | business and costs, politics, South Africa | Leave a comment

Secrecy in South Africa, as government mulls subsidies for nuclear power

nukes-hungryRegardless of how the financing will be structured it is clear that most of the money will come from debt, which South Africans will ultimately pay for through higher electricity tariffs or increased taxes. The details of these financing structures are also unlikely to be transparent.

flag-S.AfricaSA still in the dark over nuke money, Mail and Guardian, South Africa 02 AUG 2013  NEWS ANALYSIS LYNLEY DONNELLY Vendor financing is a possibility, but questions remain over the country’s finances. The government appears intent on hitching its star to a big nuclear wagon, despite serious misgivings within its own ranks over whether the need for nuclear power is as urgent as once believed, the possibility of emerging alternatives and the continued opposition from business and civil society.

Chief among the reasons for a rethink of South Africa’s nuclear ambitions is the ability to pay for it, according to energy experts and economists, although there are international financing models.

The state has so far refused to pronounce on the cost, but it is estimated that it will be between R400-billion and R1-trillion. Continue reading

August 3, 2013 Posted by | politics, South Africa | Leave a comment

South Africa’s poor will not be able to afford nuclear electricity


Direct and associated coal, nuclear and other fossil fuel costs continue to rise, while solar and wind costs continue to drop………… Through smart planning and a move away from energy-intensive economic sectors, South Africa can decouple electricity demand from economic growth.

This will enable us to replace coal, fossil fuel-based and nuclear power plants as they retire with renewable energy technologies.

New power plan jeopardises electricity access for poor 02 AUG 2013  Mail and Guardian, South Africa ROBERT FISCHER The cost of electricity is the subject of talks around every table in every home in the country.

These costs are heavily influenced by the cost of generating electricity.

Now the Mail & Guardian tells us that President Jacob Zuma is pushing ahead with plans for nuclear plants, “despite uncertainty about the affordability of nuclear energy and the availability of sufficient expertise” (“Zuma slips into nuclear driver’s seat”, July 25). Eskom told the National Energy Regulator of South Africa that it “need[s] to recover the cost of producing electricity, which includes operating costs as well as the costs of financing new capacity,” through its tariffs. An extremely expensive nuclear programme could seriously jeopardise the crucial social investment of providing electricity.

When you consider that the poorest households spend 32% of their income on electricity, housing, water, gas and other fuels (excluding transport), turning on the lights becomes an expensive option. Continue reading

August 3, 2013 Posted by | politics, South Africa | 1 Comment

Doubts on whether nuclear energy has a future in South Africa

Russia’s state energy group Rosatom and the French Areva – will be watching upcoming developments in South Africa with interest. In addition to safety and financial viability, concern has also been raised around the opacity of the government’s nuclear plans. All of these issues are discussed in a recent Occasional Paper titled, “South Africa’s Nuclear Future”, published by the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA). The paper argues that unless South Africa’s nuclear planners meet the concerns mentioned above head-on, their programmes will fail to inspire confidence, both at home and abroad.

Africa: Nuclear Future Requires Urgent Clarity ALL AFRICA BY MARI-LISE DU PREEZ, 22 JULY 2013 Observers hoping to gain insights into South Africa’s nuclear energy plans have had their hopes dashed. Two International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) conferences have recently taken place in quick succession. The first, an International Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Power in the 21st Century held in St Petersburg Russia from 27 to 29 June 2013, saw the last minute withdrawal of both the Energy Minister and the CEO of Eskom.

This seemed to indicate that the tussle between the Department of Energy (DoE) and the National Planning Commission (NPC) on the future of nuclear energy in South Africa is yet to be resolved. Continue reading

July 26, 2013 Posted by | politics, South Africa | Leave a comment


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