The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry

The fantasy of Small Modular Nuclear Reactors for outback Australia

Volunteers wanted – to house small modular nuclear reactors in Australia,Online Opinion, Noel WAuchope , 11 Dec 17, 

We knew that the Australian government was looking for volunteers in outback South Australia, to take the radioactive trash from Lucas Heights and some other sites, (and not having an easy time of it). But oh dear– we had no idea that the search for hosting new (untested) nuclear reactors was on too!

Well, The Australian newspaper has just revealed this extraordinary news, in its article “Want a nuclear reactor in your backyard? Step this way” (28/11/17). Yes, it turns out that a Sydney-based company, SMR Nuclear Technology, plans to secure volunteers and a definite site within three years. If all goes well, Australia’s Small Modular Reactors will be in operation by 2030.

Only, there are obstacles. Even this enthusiastic article does acknowledge one or two of them. One is the need to get public acceptance of these so far non-existent new nuclear reactors. SMR director Robert Pritchard is quoted as saying that interest in these reactors is widespread. He gives no evidence for this.

The other is that the construction and operation of a nuclear power plant in Australia is prohibited by both commonwealth and state laws.

But there are issues, and other obstacles that are not addressed on this article. A vital question is: does SMR Nuclear Technology intend to actually build the small reactors in Australia, or more likely, merely assemble them from imported modular parts – a sort of nuclear Lego style operation?

If it is to be the latter, there will surely be a delay of probably decades. Development of SMRs is stalled, in USA due to strict safety regulations, and in UK, due to uncertainties, especially the need for public subsidy. That leaves China, where the nuclear industry is government funded, and even there, development of SMRs is still in its infancy.

As to the former, it is highly improbable that an Australian company would have the necessary expertise, resources, and funding, to design and manufacture nuclear reactors of any size. The overseas companies now planning small reactors are basing their whole enterprise on the export market. Indeed, the whole plan for “modular” nuclear reactors is about mass production and mass marketing of SMRs -to be assembled in overseas countries. That is accepted as the only way for the SMR industry to be commercially successful. Australia looks like a desirable customer for the Chinese industry, the only one that looks as if it might go ahead, at present,

If, somehow, the SMR Technologies’ plan is to go ahead, the other obstacles remain.

The critical one is of course economics. …….

Other issues of costs and safety concern the transport of radioactive fuels to the reactors, and of radioactive waste management. The nuclear industry is very fond of proclaiming that wastes from small thorium reactors would need safe disposal and guarding for “only 300 years”. Just the bare 300!

The Australian Senate is currently debating a Bill introduced by Cory Bernardi, to remove Australia’s laws prohibiting nuclear power development. The case put by SMR Technologies, as presented in The Australian newspaper is completely inadequate. The public deserves a better examination of this plan for Small Modular Reactors SMRS. And why do they leave out the operative word “Nuclear” -because it is so on the nose with the public?


December 11, 2017 Posted by | Kenya, Reference, Small Modular Nuclear Reactors | Leave a comment

South Africa’s Energy Minister – nuclear build will push ahead, regardless of the correct planning system

Nuclear will happen, Fin 24, Dec 10 2017   Dewald van Rensburg  Johannesburg -South Africa would procure several thousand megawatts of new nuclear power generation capacity, new Energy Minister David Mahlobo declared this week.

He would not say exactly how much, but seemingly intends for nuclear to be 20% of the local power supply by 2030……..

This will result in anything between R25 billion and R50 billion more being spent per year on power in South Africa by 2030 – compared with what would happen under a “least cost” strategy involving no new nuclear and no new coal stations, said Bischof-Niemz.

The wide range is due to the question mark over the cost of nuclear.

Having 20% of power come from nuclear was always the plan and was never really up for consultation, Mahlobo said this week.

On Tuesday, he subjected nongovernmental organisations to a two-hour lecture, and then proceeded to give journalists almost the same lecture at a bizarre and hastily arranged energy indaba on Thursday.

This apparent repudiation of South Africa’s existing system for planning energy investments was presented as obvious and uncontested.

Everyone else just misunderstood South Africa’s energy policy, said the former security minister who inherited the energy portfolio after President Jacob Zuma’s Cabinet reshuffle last month.

Mahlobo used the indaba to quietly announce that the long-awaited Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) had already been approved by Cabinet and that there would be no more consultations on it.

This was not said in the main plenary attended by more than 700 people, but told to journalists at a press conference afterwards that was mostly attended by Mahlobo’s staff, who applauded his answers to the journalists’ questions…….

The official programme was a strange mishmash of presentations and then parallel “commissions” to separately discuss coal, renewable energy, gas, liquid fuels and nuclear.

In the commission on renewable energy, the room was awkwardly silent when moderator Nelisiwe Magubane started the session by instructing everyone that “this is not a platform to discuss the IRP”.

There were chuckles and sighs in the room.

When she asked why no one had any questions, there were murmurs: “They’re all about the IRP!”

When a delegate pointed out that the IRP was central to the discussion, Magubane said that it could not be discussed because “the minister had a meeting with civil society and indicated this is not part of the consultation on the IRP”.

At this point, no one in the room knew that Cabinet had already approved the IRP and precluded any further consultations anyway.

Cabinet spokesperson Phumla Williams confirmed this, and said it was not mentioned in the normal Cabinet statement issued this week because it was felt that Mahlobo should announce it.

The news turns the long battle around energy policy on its head and will almost certainly lead to a new court challenge from environmental groups, which earlier this year succeeded in getting the old decision to procure 9 600MW of nuclear scrapped in court.

Up to now, the expectation had been that a new draft IRP would be produced and offer various options and scenarios for future power investments, followed by extensive public consultations.

Not so, said Mahlobo.

According to the minister, the original IRP of 2010 is still in effect and the apportionment of power sources set in 2010 remains the target.

All that will have changed from the original 2010 IRP is the overall forecast of national power demand, Mahlobo said.

This has two major effects – it demotes renewables back down to 9% of the mix and promotes nuclear back up to 20%.

Modelling done early this year with the latest technology costs created a “least cost” outcome that excludes nuclear and massively scales up renewables, which have become far cheaper in recent years……

A draft IRP released late last year was pilloried for setting arbitrary limits on renewables, which had the effect of putting nuclear back into the energy mix the mathematical model proposes.

The department of energy has since refused to provide documentation on how it modelled the cost of nuclear or to justify its limits on renewables, fuelling speculation that the IRP was being rigged to facilitate a nuclear deal.

“Nuclear, we are going to do it,” Mahlobo told journalists.

According to the minister, there will be new nuclear plants in the Western Cape and the Eastern Cape…….

December 11, 2017 Posted by | politics, South Africa | Leave a comment

South Africa’s Energy Minister agrees to follow proper process, on nuclear power development

Business Report 29th Nov 2017, A court challenge to block the South African government from rushing
through a nuclear procurement deal was postponed on Wednesday after Energy
Minister David Mahlobo agreed to follow proper process.

Earthlife Africa Johannesburg (ELA-JHB) and the Southern African Faith Communities’
Environment Institute (SAFCEI) in April won a Cape Town high order stating
that nuclear procurment would not be legal without involving the National
Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) and public participation. “SAFCEI
and ELA came back to court to ask the minsiter of Energy and Eskom to agree
to abide by the court ruling we got in April which said that they may not
procure nuclear energy without proper process and that includes involving
all of us – public participation – in the decision-making process,” SAFCEI
executive director Francesca de Gasparis said.

December 4, 2017 Posted by | politics, South Africa | Leave a comment

South Africa’s anti nuclear movement ready for President Zuma’s next pro nuclear move

Zuma’s ANC countdown puts anti-nuclear groups on high alert, Fin 24, Nov 29 2017 , Matthew le Cordeur, 

WITH the countdown to the African National Congress (ANC) elective conference having started, civil society is on high alert that President Jacob Zuma – and his supportive Energy Minister, David Mahlobo – will sign a deal with the Russians to build a fleet of nuclear power stations. Fin24’s Matthew le Cordeur explains…

THE level of anxiety regarding a possible nuclear deal being struck before the year is up has been evident with the media analysis on Mahlobo’s every utterance, civil societies’ concern regarding an energy indaba next week and Wednesday’s urgent court interdict against a nuclear deal rushing ahead.

The unproven and denied allegation that Zuma has been bribed with billions of dollars by the Russians as part of a “secret nuclear deal” has driven the debate against nuclear energy in recent years. Zuma himself said South Africa is committed to procuring nuclear energy at a “pace and scale South Africa can afford”.

However, if the allegations are true, the ANC elective conference from December 16 to 20 is a major deadline for the “secret deal” to go through. If Cyril Ramaphosa succeeds Zuma as ANC president, the nuclear plans will likely be scrapped because it is seen as fiscal suicide by Ramaphosa’s faction.

If the allegations are true and if Zuma feels threatened by Ramaphosa’s chances of a victory, it would make sense to sign a nuclear procurement deal with Rosatom before then.

The official nuclear procurement programme run by Eskom this year would have likely been signed by now. However, a court ruling in April changed that and the Department of Energy under newly-appointed Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi said government would start from scratch……….

there is still concern that Mahlobo intends pushing through the energy policy document following what some believe may be a sham public participation process next week. If the new energy policy states that large amounts of nuclear energy is required, the government may see this as enough to start the process.

That is why over 20 civil society organisations wrote to Mahlobo on Tuesday asking him to clarify the purpose of the department’s Energy Indaba being held next week on Thursday and Friday in Midrand.

Action group OUTA also wrote to Mahlobo on Wednesday asking for clarity, saying that “the event programme has not yet been circulated and clarity is required on the accessibility of this indaba to the public [both interested and affected parties].”

“According to the ministry, it would appear the planned Energy Indaba constitutes a formal public engagement process on energy matters in general, including on the nuclear energy matter.

“We believe the planned Energy Indaba in the format currently being pursued falls well short of the requirements in law and reason for meaningful engagement on decisions relating to energy mix and procurement,” OUTA told the minister.

The civil society groups that wrote to Mahlobo on Tuesday include WWF, Earthlife Africa, Safcei, Greenpeace Africa and the Centre for Environmental Rights…….

With the alarm sounded, all eyes will remain on Zuma and Mahlobo regarding nuclear in the coming weeks.

Secret deal or not, the opposition groups to nuclear energy are on full alert and will turn to the courts to fight the process to the last drop.

December 1, 2017 Posted by | opposition to nuclear, South Africa | Leave a comment

Protest against South African govt’s plan s for nuclear power

Greenpeace activists stage nuclear protest, PRETORIA NEWS / 30 NOVEMBER 2017 MATLHATSI DIBAKWANE

A group of 15 Greenpeace activists have blocked the main entrance of the Department of Enviromental Affairs with nuclear barrels to send a message to the department to stop nuclear as they said it was never safe.

The group sat on the department’s entrance demanding with a huge banner that read “Stop nuclear! Protect our future” that they want the Department of Environmental Affairs to withdraw the environmental authorisation that has been issued for a proposed nuclear power station at Duynefontein.

They did so early in the early hours of the morning by unloading nuclear barrels filled with smoke and staged what could happen in a nuclear disaster.

Melita Steele senior climate and energy campaign manager for Greenpeace Africa said the protest was to send a message to the department that nuclear was dangerous and expensive and should not be under consideration in South Africa.

Steele added that the approval and the construction of a nuclear power station was negligent and that the minister of environmental affairs was putting all South Africans at risk.

“South Africans are clearly saying no to nuclear, and there is no point coming to work if you are going to completely fail to do your job,” she said.

December 1, 2017 Posted by | opposition to nuclear, South Africa | Leave a comment

Gabon’s uranium miners’ long wait for compensation for radiation-caused illness

For Gabon’s sickly uranium miners, a long quest for compensation, , 27 Nov 17“We are all sick. It’s our health, and we are being conned,” Moise Massala says angrily.

The 82-year-old is a retired geochemist who used to work in a uranium mine in Gabon owned by French nuclear giant Areva.

He and hundreds of other former workers say they fell ill from their work to extract the uranium — a source of nuclear power and warheads, but toxic and potentially carcinogenic.

The miners worked for an Areva subsidiary — the Compagnie des mines d’uranium de Franceville, better known by its abbreviation of COMUF.

Over 38 years, the mine extracted some 26,000 tonnes of uranium near Mounana, southeastern Gabon, before closing in 1999 after the global price of uranium fell and the seam of ore began to thin.

By the end of 2016, 367 former workers had died from “pulmonary respiratory infections” linked to working in the mine, according to MATRAC, a campaign group gathering 1,618 former employees.

The surviving miners, many of them old and sick, have unsuccessfully demanded compensation for 12 years in the belief they were exposed to dangerous levels of uranium contamination.

Areva, a multi-billion-dollar business majority-owned by the French state, has repeatedly denied that it has any case to answer. “No occupational disease related to exposure to ionising radiation” has ever been detected, it says.

‘Many serious diseases’ An internal company mail dating from 2015, seen by AFP and independently verified, acknowledges that the company was aware many of its former employees had developed serious ailments.

In the mail, Areva’s health director, Pierre Laroche, wrote that “many serious diseases have been detected among former employees, for example contagious tuberculosis”.

For former workers, this proves the company’s liability and justifies their claims for compensation, even if it does not legally prove all their illnesses are directly linked to excessive levels of uranium exposure.

The firm has refused to give payouts to the vast majority of its employees, apart from compensation payments in 2011 to the families in France of two French former mine workers who died of lung cancer.

The company has repeatedly argued it was difficult to establish if the rate of cancer cases among former miners was greater than those occurring in the wider population.

“That there was radioactivity in Mounana is a reality. (But) to what degree and to what extent the workers were affected, it will be very difficult to establish,” a former senior executive of the mine told AFP, on condition of anonymity.

In similar disputes elsewhere in the world, experts acknowledge the difficulty of pinning cancer and respiratory diseases on nuclear exposure at work.

Smoking and other “lifestyle” habits could, for instance, be a cause.

‘We are sick’

Areva has been under pressure to compensate its employees for more than a decade.

In 2007, French NGOs Sherpa and Medecins du Monde (Doctors of the World) carried out field surveys in Mounana and in Niger, another Areva uranium mining site.

They published a report denouncing what they described as high rates of cancer among former employees.

Areva agreed to investigate the situation and launched a health initiative in 2009 — the Mounana Health Observatory (OSM) — promising to pay compensation and treat former miners who fell ill, provided scientific and medical panels confirmed their disease was attributable to industrial causes.

Seven years on, not one former employee has been compensated.

“I’ve had difficulty breathing for 10 years,” says 77-year-old Roland Mayombo, who spent 27 years in the mine.

“I went to the OSM four times a year, but I have never had a result,” he complained.

“We decided to stop going (to the OSM) because no one has ever given us our analysis results,” said Estime Beno Ngodi, president of MATRAC, who says he is suffering from lung cancer.

COMUF accuses MATRAC of spreading “misinformation” and defends its handling of the health initiative.

It looked at more than 650 former workers but suspended the project in 2015 because of a boycott by MATRAC, says Gilles Recoche, COMUF’s director of the board.

“We’re proud of having set up a unique tripartite structure, which enabled former COMUF workers to benefit from a free medical visit,” he adds.

For the surviving miners, their long battle to prove a direct link between their illness and uranium contamination goes on. But, for many, age and sickness are wearing them down.

December 1, 2017 Posted by | AFRICA, health, Uranium | Leave a comment

Legal action in South Africa’s High Court against government’s rushed nuclear energy deal

Two NGOs launch urgent High Court application against nuclear energy deal   17 NOVEMBER 2017   KYLE COWAN On Thursday, two non-governmental organisations (NGOs) launched an urgent court application to halt what they are calling a “rush by government in decision-making on the nuclear energy deal”.Earthlife Africa Johannesburg and the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute said in a statement on Friday that they have approached the High Court to ask for an order to stay the process.

Last week, the same NGOs sent a request to Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown and Energy Minister David Mahlobo‚ as well as the National Energy Regulator of SA (Nersa)‚ asking for a commitment to follow legal processes and allow public consultation on proposed nuclear deals.

The three parties had not responded to the request by Wednesday‚ the statement said.

Earthlife’s Makoma Lekalakala said: “We are part of an international movement against dirty nuclear energy‚ where we have seen governments enter into nuclear deals that are not in the interests of their people. That must not happen in SA.”

According to Earthlife‚ Mahlobo’s recent “utterances in the press” suggested that the finalisation of the integrated resource plan and the nuclear programme was being fast-tracked, “yet government has failed to implement the necessary public participation required by the court judgement that was delivered on 26 April 2017”.

The NGOs will ask the court to declare that:

• No steps‚ including the issuing of requests for proposals or request for information‚ be taken for the procurement of new electricity-generation capacity‚ derived from nuclear power.

• Steps not be taken in the absence of a lawful determination in terms of s34 of the Electricity Regulation Act‚ in concurrence with Nersa‚ following a procedurally fair public participation process.

“This determination would have to specify that new, nuclear energy electricity generation is needed‚ and what percentage of SA’s energy mix it would fulfil.”

Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba has also indicated that the country may not be able to afford the nuclear programme‚ which is estimated will cost upwards of R1-trillion.

The court will also be asked to direct Mahlobo and Eskom to provide written reports on what steps they have taken, or plan to take, on plans for nuclear power. Should evidence exist that they have taken steps to forge ahead with the nuclear programme‚ the court will be asked to declare Mahlobo and Eskom in contempt of court for violating the April court order.

“We cannot have unaccountable government,” said Liz McDaid of the faith communities’ institute. “We have now seen overwhelming evidence emerging in the public arena that shows how state institutions have been captured and how money that is meant to deliver services to South Africans has gone into the pockets of looters.”

“The nuclear deal‚ purportedly worth more than R1-trillion‚ is yet another one of these deals. SA cannot afford‚ nor does it need, new nuclear power-generation capacity. I think South Africans have had enough.”

November 17, 2017 Posted by | Legal, South Africa | Leave a comment

New report says that South Africa should ditch nuclear plan, to save Eskom from ruin

To save Eskom from ruin, SA should ditch nuclear plan and cut coal power – study, Fin w24 Nov 16 2017 Cape Town – Eskom should cut down on its coal power network – including curtailing work at Kusile – and should not embark on any new nuclear, gas or coal building programmes if it wants to save itself from financial ruin, a new study has found.

This comes as an Eskom report seen by Fin24 and EE Publishers shows that the power utility is projecting a R3.55bn loss by the end of its current financial year. It also shows the power utility’s poor governance has left it teetering on the edge of insolvency, with only R1.2bn of liquidity reserves expected to be in hand at the end of the month.

Amidst Eskom’s governance and financial crisis, President Jacob Zuma has repeatedly said that South Africa is committed to developing new nuclear power stations at a pace and scale it can afford. Critics, who believe it could cost over R1trn and that would threaten the country’s fiscal framework policy, want the nuclear policy scrapped altogether.

Now, the new research report, which was published on Thursday by Meridian Economics, shows that Eskom should decommission its older coal-fired power stations and consider curtailing the Kusile construction programme in order to save costs.

These interventions can be achieved without affecting security of supply, it shows.

The study also shows that South Africa does not need a nuclear, coal or gas power procurement or construction programme. Instead, it should accelerate its transition to cleaner, cheaper, and more sustainable renewable energy when further capacity is required.

“Stagnant demand and Eskom’s large power station construction programme has resulted in a growing surplus of expensive generation capacity,” Meridian Economics managing director Dr Grové Steyn said in a statement on Thursday.

“At the same time, the operating costs of Eskom’s coal-fired power stations have consistently increased. This has forced Eskom to implement the highest tariff increases in recorded history, and has led to a growing solvency and – at the time of writing – a liquidity crisis.

“If the system can meet demand over the same period by using alternative resources such as other existing coal stations, wind and solar – but at a lower cost than the cost of electricity from a particular coal-fired power station – it makes economic sense to decommission that station early, or not to complete it.”

A system analysis undertaken by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research Energy Centre found that new coal and nuclear plants are simply no longer competitive against the falling costs of renewables and associated technologies, the report said.

For the foreseeable future no gas fired power stations are required (peaking gas turbines can run on liquid fuel).

“This means that South Africa does not need a nuclear, coal or gas power procurement or construction programme.”

Eskom shows no commitment to decommission older plants

Despite Eskom’s dire financial circumstances, it nonetheless has not yet committed to decommission any of its older plants, even as they approach the end of their lives and the costs of running the older stations increase, Meridian Economics explained.

“With Eskom’s on-going governance crisis, it appears that government and Eskom are partially paralysed, and could struggle to take the right decisions in the public interest. It is therefore critical that the National Energy Regulator (Nersa) ensures that these issues are investigated and addressed, and that Eskom is only allowed to recover efficient costs in its tariffs,” Meridian Economics said.

“If Eskom’s financial crisis continues to worsen, as we suspect it might, more drastic steps must be considered in light of the systemic risk to the state and the entire economy,” said Steyn.

“If the options of substantial tariff increases and further government bailouts are exhausted, Eskom will have to urgently find other ways to maintain its solvency and avoid a liquidity crisis……..

November 16, 2017 Posted by | business and costs, South Africa | Leave a comment

The African Youth Initiative on Climate Change (AYICC) at the Bonn climate talks

COP23: African youth fighting for climate action, DW, 12 Nov 17   Africa is harnessing the power of its emerging youth demographic to spearhead efforts to tackle climate change. By 2050, UNICEF estimates that approximately two out of every five children on our planet will be African. Africa’s rapidly burgeoning young generation is viewed by some as a precursor to a range of serious problems across the continent, ranging from unemployment to further migration crises. But they could very well be the key to confronting one of the biggest challenges of our time: climate change.

As delegates from across Africa gather for the latest round of international climate talks in Bonn this week, young African leaders and experts are hosting their own side-events to draw attention to their own fight against climate change, while highlighting the importance of African youth getting involved in the process.

The African Youth Initiative on Climate Change (AYICC) was established back in 2006 shortly before COP12 talks kicked off in Nairobi, Kenya. Since then, support for climate change action among the African youth has grown considerably, as they actively work to raise awareness in their communities and hold their governments to account for inaction.

Young generation best equipped to tackle climate change

Maureen Sigauke is the co-founder of the community-based organization, Green Active Citizens Trust in Zimbabwe and was a speaker at WWF’s COP23 Africa Day panel, Youth and Climate Change in Africa. She explained to DW why young Africans should act now to secure their futures, when the effects of climate change will be more clearly felt across the continent.

“I think that it is important to know that climate change is a threat to development; it is a threat to job security – if floods happen it can threaten your job – it’s a threat to human rights, it’s a threat to economic development, it’s a threat to sustainable access to basic human rights such as food, shelter and poverty alleviation, particularly in the African case. So that’s why people should care, because everything that we know could change if climate change continues unabated.”…….

November 13, 2017 Posted by | AFRICA, climate change | Leave a comment

Is it still possible for the Zuma administration to bag the nuclear energy programme?

ZUMA’S ALLIES ARE GUNG-HO ABOUT NUCLEAR. WILL THEY GET THEIR WAY? South Africa’s nuclear build programme seems to be back on the agendaafter earlier indications that it was dead. Recent comments by President Jacob Zuma and his new Minister of Energy David Mahlobo signal a final push to bag the nuclear deal while Zuma is still in power. In December Zuma’s term as president of the African National Congress will come to an end when the ruling party elects a new leadership. His term as president of the country ends in 2019. The Conversation Africa’s business and economy editor Sibonelo Radebe asked Keith Gottschalk to assess the situation.

Is it still possible for the Zuma administration to bag the nuclear energy programme?

The worsening financial plight of the state and its parastatals makes the estimated R1 trillion cost of the proposed nuclear build programme increasingly unaffordable. The new Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba said as much. Slow economic activity is squeezing the tax revenue base while social expenditure demands keep rising. This has caused the deficit indicators to rise, a cause for serious concern. It’s ludicrous for government to insist on adding the humongous nuclear build programme into such a dire state of public finances.

It’s also important to consider that government’s atomic ambitions go far beyond the 9,600 MW of extra nuclear power stations. It also wants to rebuild a uranium enrichment plant that dates back to former apartheid-era President PW Botha in the 1980s. South Africa gave up its nuclear capability in 1989. It was the only country in Africa that had the ability to make a nuclear bomb.

Zuma’s administration wants to regain some of the lost nuclear capacity. It wants to construct a fuel element fabrication factory. It has talked of a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant. All these also bear steep price tags.

What can stop it? It’s been reported that Mahlobo, the former State Security Minister turned Energy Minister, wants to rush through the new process of guiding the nuclear energy plan to fruition. So it’s not going to be easy to stop it.

But South Africa’s nuclear ambitions face stiff opposition from different directions. These include environmentalist critics of nuclear power generation who use a blend of media, street theatre, objections at public consultation processes, and lawfare to try and stop the government’s ambitions.

The SA Faith Community Environmental Initiative group won an important victory earlier this year when the Cape High Court ruled that the government had not followed due process in its nuclear energy plans, and that they had to be halted. This effectively sent government back to square one.

Opposition parties have also been active, using parliamentary channels. They’re also considering taking the legal route to halt the nuclear juggernaut.

And there is palpable opposition within the ANC itself. A number of ANC branches sent motions critical of the costs of nuclear electricity to the ANC’s national policy conference. That conference’s report censored out all these motions.

The administration seems to be pulling out all the stops to bag this programme: What’s at stake? By now, scandal-weary South Africans will react by saying: follow the money. In December 2016 the government dropped the bombshell that the procurement of its nuclear build programme would be taken away from the Department of Energy and done instead through Eskom.

The reason became clear when months of media headlines revealed that Eskom’s procurement mechanisms had been infiltrated and subverted by the Gupta family conglomerate to become a corporate feeding trough. With close ties to Zuma, the Guptas stand accused of operating an elaborate mission to capture state business with a keen eye on the nuclear energy build programme.

Every nuclear build contract, from “consulting” to turbines, would be inflated by one-fifth to build in the kickbacks to the corrupt middlemen tenderpreneurs.

Does South Africa need nuclear energy at this stage?

South Africa does not need nuclear energy at any stage.About a decade ago, the government argued that South Africa’s economic growth was 5% per year every year, and that the resultant increase in electricity demand necessitated building 9,600 MW of new nuclear power stations. Critics pointed out that these figures were inaccurate.

Economic growth has shrunk significantly since then together with future projections of electricity demand. But the government still insist that the 9,600 MW of nuclear power proposition is backed by economic fundamentals. Clearly, this is a political decision uncoupled from economic realities.

On top of this, the most cost-effective generation of electricity would be a blend of imported hydro, imported gas, solar and wind. But these avenues seem to have been blocked by nefarious agendas.

In 2010, the Department of Energy proudly announced a 5,000 MW solar park to be built outside Upington. It hosted an international investors’ conference to kickstart progress. Since then, nothing has happened.

In 2014 the department proudly put up on the internet a slide show of how Zuma and the DRC’s President Kabila had signed a treaty guaranteeing South Africa over 10,000 MW of imported hydropower once the Inga dams were constructed.

By December 2016 the department had effectively airbrushed these out of its presentations. Clearly, political power had been applied to compel the department to drop Eskom’s renewable division, and to suck up to its nuclear division. Which political power this was became exposed this week when Zuma smeared opponents of his nuclear plans as western puppets.

What are global trends saying about nuclear energy?

The building of new nuclear power stations in developed countries is drastically declining. The UK is alone in signing a contract to build a new one. Nuclear vendors have stepped up their sales campaigns in developing countries to compensate.

Keith Gottschalk is a political scientist, University of the Western Cape.

November 11, 2017 Posted by | politics, South Africa | Leave a comment

South Africa’s President Zuma determined to push through a nuclear power deal

Zuma’s last ditch effort to ram through a nuclear power deal, Hartmut Winkler President Jacob Zuma’s term of office has been characterised by an absence of vision and associated initiatives. Zuma is instead known for his inaction and overt stalling tactics. Examples include delays in setting up the State Capture Commission of Inquiry, announcing a new board for the state broadcaster, and delaying the release of a report on the future of university fees.

His recent dramatic push to fast-track an expensive and highly controversial nuclear power station build is therefore very much out of character. But Zuma’s advocacy of the nuclear build needs to be understood in terms of another hallmark of his presidency – state capture. This expression refers to the systematic takeover of state institutions by presidential allies and the resulting exploitation of institutions for commercial advantage and profit by his benefactors.

It’s already become clear who is likely to benefit from South Africa pursuing the option to build nuclear power stations. The list includes the Gupta brothers and Zuma’s son Duduzane through their links to the Shiva uranium mine.

And then there’s Zuma himself. Speculation about why the president appears to be favouring a deal with Russian company Rosatom ranges from allegations of grand scale individual kickbacks to alleged commitments linked to funding for the African National Congress.

 The controversy around the nuclear power option was precipitated three years ago when it emerged that the government had signed an agreement with Russia that paved the way for the use of Russian technology in planned new nuclear power stations. The problem was that there’d been a complete lack of due process – no costing, no public consultation, no proper proclamation and no competitive bidding. It was no surprise that the courts declared the awarding of the nuclear build to Russia illegal.

On top of this a very strong case has been mounted against South Africa pursuing nuclear power. Reasons include the fact that it can’t afford it, and doesn’t need nuclear in its energy mix.

Despite all of these developments, and the growing controversy and mounting opposition to the deal, Zuma appears determined to get it done before his term as president of the ANC ends in December. In the last of the reshuffles he appointed one of his closest allies, David Mahlobo, to the energy portfolio. This is generally seen as a last ditch attempt to roll out the nuclear build in the face of now massive opposition.

Reports suggest that this reshuffle was occasioned by Russian displeasure over what they see as a broken promise to award the building contract to Rosatom.

The energy minister’s next steps

Mahlobo appears to have devoted his first few weeks in office entirely to furthering the nuclear project. He has been active in the media declaring the nuclear build as a given – and necessary.

 Mahlobo’s next steps are likely to be:
  • He is reported to be planning to release – in record time – a new energy plan. This, some suspect, will be biased towards nuclear.
  • Heightened public lobbying. This could include verbal attacks on nuclear critics as already initiated by the President.
  • The issuing of a request for proposals to build the nuclear plants to potential developers like Rosatom. Most observers expect the evaluation to favour Rosatom regardless of the merits of the other bidders.
  • Signing an agreement with Rosatom. This could mirror the USD$30 billion deal Russia signed with Egypt which, on the surface, will appear attractive because it would offer favourable terms such as annual interest of only 3% and the commencement of repayments after 13 years. But when scaling the 4.8 GW Egyptian agreement up to the 9.6 GW envisioned for South Africa, the total cost then already exceeds R1 trillion. Annual repayments from year 14 to year 35 then amount to about 5% of South Africa’s annual fiscus. Any cost overruns, which are common in many other nuclear builds, would vastly increase the debt further.

What’s changed

The global energy landscape has changed dramatically since South Africa first mooted the idea of supplementing its power mix with more nuclear. Major developments and changes include:

Not even government’s own recent energy plans have promoted nuclear.

A 2013 draft energy plan argued against immediate nuclear growth. (The plan was never formally adopted).

The last draft plan released in 2016 went as far as declaring new nuclear unnecessary until 2037.

Will it happen?

Nuclear plants are major long term investments, and these projects will not survive lengthy construction and operation periods without broad public support. There is definitely a lack of public support in South Africa.

The Zuma-Mahlobo work plan will face major opposition by other parties, civil society and even critics within the ruling party. Lengthy court challenges will query the validity of the energy plan process, the public consultation, the regulatory aspects, the site selection and the constitutionality of the entire process. Public protests highly effective in other spheres would now be directed against the nuclear build. The ruling party would probably abandon the scheme if it proves politically costly.

The danger is, however, that huge funds will have been wasted in coming to this realisation.

The stakes are high. Zuma’s efforts to promote this unpopular nuclear project are weakening him politically. Even party comrades perceived to be in his inner circle – like newly appointed Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba – recognise that going ahead with the programme at this stage would cripple the country economically. Repeated ministerial reshuffles to sideline his critics has further damaged Zuma’s standing in the ruling party and in broader society.

Hartmut Winkler, Professor of Physics, University of Johannesburg

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

November 9, 2017 Posted by | politics, South Africa | Leave a comment

How the Gupta brothers and the nuclear industry bought South Africa

The Brothers Who Bought South Africa, The continent’s most important economy now appears to function for the benefit of one powerful family. Bloomberg, By Matthew Campbell and Franz Wild, 9 Nov 17 

“….– Since Nene’s firing, long-standing questions about the scale of the Guptas’ power in South Africa have exploded into the most severe political and economic crisis since the end of apartheid. The family has been accused by activists and opposition politicians of stacking the leadership of powerful state companies, rigging bids in favor of suppliers it controls, and even helping orchestrate a planned $70 billion nuclear-power deal with Russia, for which it could supply vast quantities of uranium—all while using an alliance with Zuma to neuter law enforcement agencies that would otherwise shut down its efforts. Blue chip companies including McKinseyKPMG, and SAP have been embroiled in what’s fast becoming a global scandal……..

In 2005 the brothers began putting Zuma’s family on their payroll. They hired his son Duduzane, then in his early 20s, as an IT specialist; appointed Duduzane’s twin sister, Duduzile, as a company director; and made one of Zuma’s wives (polygamy is legal in South Africa, and Zuma currently has four) a communications officer.

Over the years, Duduzane became an integral node in the Guptas’ empire, both as a shareholder in uranium and coal mines and a director in a string of other companies. …….
There was at least one more avenue by which money might flow from Eskom to Gupta-connected companies. In 2010 the family’s investment company borrowed about 250 million rand from a state bank to buy a South African uranium mine. It was a curious purchase—there was no real buyer for the uranium, because South Africa has only one aging nuclear plant. In 2014, however, Zuma’s administration laid out a grand plan that would make the mine’s value soar: He proposed building six massive nuclear plants for Eskom at an ultimate cost that could exceed $70 billion.

The idea was controversial from the start. In addition to immense reserves of coal, South Africa has a vibrant renewable-energy sector and no obvious need for nuclear power.

 Zuma has dismissed the criticism, arguing the country needs to diversify its energy sources—and strategic alliances. In 2014, he and President Putin agreed that Russia’s state nuclear agency, Rosatom Corp., would provide technology for the plants.

The next summer, Zuma was back in Russia for an economic summit, joined by his senior ministers—including Nene, the then-finance chief. Toward the end of the conference, according to two officials who were present, Zuma cornered Nene in a briefing room about the nuclear deal. The president and several other ministers demanded that Nene provide financial guarantees that would allow Eskom and Russia’s relationship to move ahead. Nene refused; even under the most optimistic projections, he said, a nuclear project of the scale Zuma envisioned would severely strain South African finances.

Zuma complained bitterly about Nene’s resistance, the summit officials say. Not long afterward, Nene’s deputy, Jonas, found himself in the Guptas’ sitting room at Saxonwold, being offered his boss’s job…….

The Guptas’ apparent grip on politics is resilient, but their freedom of movement has been significantly reduced—and doing business with them now carries potentially fatal risks……..

November 9, 2017 Posted by | politics, secrets,lies and civil liberties, South Africa | Leave a comment

Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute and Earthlife Africa ready to take legal action against nuclear policy

Abide by nuclear procurement ruling or we go to court, state told
Failure by Energy Minister David Mahlobo, Eskom and Nersa to halt any tender process for nuclear energy will end in court 10 NOVEMBER 2017   LINDA ENSOR The government, Eskom and the National Energy Regulator of SA (Nersa) have been urged to abide by the judgment of the High Court in Cape Town and immediately halt any tender process for nuclear energy.

The call comes from the Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute and Earthlife Africa.

Failure by Energy Minister David Mahlobo, Eskom and Nersa to give an undertaking by Monday that they will halt the process could result in an urgent application being brought to the high court to ensure that its judgment is respected and that the government acts “openly and transparently” with regard to nuclear procurement.

The two organisations have sent lawyers’ letters to Mahlobo, Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown, Eskom and Nersa recalling the April judgment, which ruled that any decision made about new electricity generation must be made in conjunction with Nersa through a lawful and procedurally fair determination under section 34 of the Electricity Regulation Act.

The determination would have to specify why new
nuclear energy electricity generation was needed so urgently and what percentage of SA’s energy mix it would fulfil.

Earthlife Africa’s Johannesburg co-ordinator, Makoma Lekalakala, noted that the judgment emphasised the need for public participation as part of the determination processes.

The letters follow news reports that Mahlobo is fast-tracking finalisation of the Integrated Resource Plan by four months so he can expedite nuclear procurement. The plan will determine the energy mix the country will require in future, what proportion of this will be provided by nuclear and when the construction of new nuclear plants should begin.

Eskom has signalled its intention to begin the tender process immediately if the Integrated Resource Plan showed the nuclear programme could go ahead.

Liz McDaid of the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute said the fast-tracking of the plan was being undertaken despite Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba having stated that the country did not need nor could it afford new nuclear plants.

The many serious allegations of state capture and irregular procurement processes by senior Eskom officials could not be ignored, McDaid added.

November 9, 2017 Posted by | Legal, South Africa | Leave a comment

African countries being sucked in by risky nuclear dream from Russia

Africa buys into nuclear dream, Mail and Guardian, Lynley Donnelly   


Risky: Nigeria has oil but infrastructure maintenance is poor. It is considering the nuclear option. (Akintunde Akinleye, Reuters)


While questions swirl around the progress of South Africa’s nuclear plans, Russia’s state nuclear agency Rosatom is losing no time in selling the atomic dream to other African countries.

Last week the company signed project-development agreements with the Nigerian government for the construction and operation of a nuclear power plant and research centre housing a multipurpose research reactor.

Nigeria has extensive oil and gas reserves but suffers from chronic electricity shortages.

Media reports suggest the deal could cost about $20-billion, but Rosatom said the costs have yet to be determined.

The agreements were signed in order to adopt the appropriate approach and establish the project’s implementation details, a Rosatum official said. “Cost estimations and project specifications will be evaluated in accordance to this agreement,” the official said.

In Egypt, plans for the construction of a nuclear plant at El Dabaa are at an advanced stage…… (subscribers only)

November 9, 2017 Posted by | marketing, Nigeria, Russia | Leave a comment

Australium uranium company Paladin going bust, leaving Malawi with a horrible environmental mess

Paladin has ignored our requests to provide its estimate of the cost of rehabilitating Kayelekera, but we can safely say that the figure will be multiples of the US$10 million bond. Just keeping Kayelekera in care-and-maintenance costs US$1012 million annually.

As things stand, if Paladin goes bankrupt and fails to rehabilitate Kayelekera, either rehabilitation will be coordinated and funded by the Malawian government (with a small fraction of the cost coming from Paladin’s bond) or the mine-site will not be rehabilitated at all.

It does Australian companies investing in mining ventures abroad no good whatsoever to leave Kayelekera unrehabilitated, a permanent reminder of the untrustworthiness and unfulfilled promises of an Australian miner and the indifference of the Australian government.

The company’s environmental and social record has also been the source of ongoing controversy and the subject of countless critical reports.

Julie Bishop, the WA government, Paladin and its administrators from KPMG need to liaise with the Malawian government and Malawian civil society to sort the rehabilitation of Kayelekera. An obvious starting point would be to prioritise the rehabilitation of Kayelekera if and when Paladin goes bankrupt and its carcass is being divided up. (picture below shows uranium sludge going to river)

Australian uranium miner goes bust ‒ so who cleans up its mess in Africa? By Morgan Somerville and Jim Green, Online Opinion, 8 November 2017

Perth-based uranium mining company Paladin Energy was put into administration in July and the company is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Critics of the uranium industry won’t miss the company if it disappears. Other uranium mining companies won’t miss Paladin; in an overcrowded market, they will be pleased to have less competition.

But the looming bankruptcy does pose one major problem. Paladin’s Kayelekera uranium mine in Malawi, the ‘warm heart of Africa’, needs to be rehabilitated and Paladin hasn’t set aside nearly enough money for the job.

Under the leadership of founder and CEO John Borshoff, described as the grandfather of Australian uranium, Paladin has operated two uranium mines over the past decade. The Langer Heinrich mine in Namibia was opened in 2007, and Kayelekera in 2009.

They were heady days ‒ there was an endless talk about a nuclear power ‘renaissance’ and the uranium price tripled between June 2006 and June 2007. The Australian Financial Review reflected on Paladin’s glory days: “John Borshoff was once one of Western Australia’s wealthiest businessmen. The founder of Perth-based Paladin Energy developed an enviable portfolio of African uranium mines supposed to satiate booming global demand for yellowcake. When the company’s Langer Heinrich mine began shipments in March 2007, as the spot price for uranium eclipsed $US100 per pound, Paladin was worth more than $4 billion.”

Paladin was once the best-­performed stock in the world according to The Australian newspaper. The company’s share price went from one cent in 2003 to A$10.80 in 2007. Borshoff made his debut on the Business Review Weekly’s ‘Rich 200’ list in 2007 with estimated wealth of A$205 million.

But the good times didn’t last. The uranium bubble burst in mid-2007, and the Fukushima disaster in 2011 ensured that there would be no nuclear power renaissance and that the uranium industry would remain depressed for years to come. Borshoff left Paladin in 2015, and in 2016 Paladin’s new CEO Alexander Molyneux said that “it has never been a worse time for uranium miners”.

The loss-making Kayelekera mine in Malawi was put into care-and-maintenance in July 2014, leaving Paladin with the modest Langer Heinrich mine plus a number of projects the company describes as ‘nonproducing assets’ (such as uranium projects in jurisdictions that ban uranium mining).

Paladin was put into administration in July this year, unable to pay its debts. Even if Paladin sold its 75% stake in Langer Heinrich, its only revenue-raising project, it couldn’t repay all its debts.

Administrators from KPMG are attempting to sort out the mess and bondholders are reportedly being asked to fund a recapitalisation of Paladin. Bankruptcy would seem a much more likely option given the weakness of the company and the weakness of the global uranium market.

Paladin has said that a uranium price of about US$75 per pound would be required for Kayelekera to become economically viable ‒  almost four times the current uranium spot price, and well over twice the current long-term contract price. Even if the uranium price did rebound, Kayelekera would operate for only around four years; it isn’t a large deposit.

The likelihood of uranium prices reaching US$75 in the foreseeable future is near-zero. John Borshoff said in 2013 that the uranium industry “is definitely in crisis … and is showing all the symptoms of a mid-term paralysis”. Former World Nuclear Association executive Steve Kidd said in May 2014 that the industry is set for “a long period of relatively low prices, in which uranium producers will find it hard to make a living”. Nick Carter from Ux Consulting said in April 2016 that he did not anticipate a uranium supply deficit until the late 2020s. Other industry insiders and market analysts have made similar comments about the bleak future for uranium ‒ and the bondholders being asked to recapitalise Paladin would surely know that their money would be better invested in a long-shot at Flemington.

Who cleans up Kayelekera?

Assuming Paladin goes bankrupt, who cleans up the Kayelekera open-pit uranium mine? The company was required to lodge a US$10 million Environmental Performance Bond with Malawian banks, and presumably that money can be tapped to rehabilitate Kayelekera. But US$10 million won’t scratch the surface. According to a Malawian NGO, the rehabilitation cost is estimated at US$100 million ‒ ten times the amount set aside by Paladin. The cost of rehabilitating the Ranger uranium in the Northern Territory ‒ also an open-pit uranium mine, albeit larger than Kayelekera ‒ is estimated at just under US$500 million.

Paladin has ignored our requests to provide its estimate of the cost of rehabilitating Kayelekera, but we can safely say that the figure will be multiples of the US$10 million bond. Just keeping Kayelekera in care-and-maintenance costs US$1012 million annually.

As things stand, if Paladin goes bankrupt and fails to rehabilitate Kayelekera, either rehabilitation will be coordinated and funded by the Malawian government (with a small fraction of the cost coming from Paladin’s bond) or the mine-site will not be rehabilitated at all.

Is it reasonable for Australia, a relatively wealthy country, to leave it to the overstretched, under-resourced government of an impoverished African nation to clean up the mess left behind by an Australian mining company? If the Malawian government cleans up Paladin’s mess, that will necessarily come at the expense of other priorities. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world. According to a 2013 U.N. report, more than half the population live below the poverty line, and about half of all children under the age of five show signs of chronic malnutrition.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop should intervene to sort out the situation at Kayelekera and to prevent a repetition of this fiasco. We imagine that the Minister’s eyes might glaze over in response to a moral argument about the importance of Australia being a good global citizen. But there is also a hard-headed commercial argument for intervention to clean up Kayelekera.

It does Australian companies investing in mining ventures abroad no good whatsoever to leave Kayelekera unrehabilitated, a permanent reminder of the untrustworthiness and unfulfilled promises of an Australian miner and the indifference of the Australian government. Australia is set to become the biggest international miner on the African continent, perhaps as early as this year, according to the Australia-Africa Minerals & Energy Group. But Australian companies can’t expect to be welcomed if travesties such as Kayelekera remain resolved.

‘Overly sophisticated’

Back in 2006, John Borshoff told ABC television that Australia and Canada have become “overly sophisticated” with their thinking about environmental and social issues associated with the mining industry. Hence Paladin’s focus on projects in Africa.

One advantage ‒ if that’s the word ‒ of mining in Africa is that Paladin hasn’t had to set aside sufficient funds to rehabilitate Kayelekera. The company’s environmental and social record has also been the source of ongoing controversy and the subject of countless critical reports.

Paladin has lost money on Kayelekera, and the economic benefits for Malawi have been pitiful. Paladin has exploited the country’s poverty to secure numerous reductions and exemptions from payments normally required by foreign investors. United Nations’ Special Rapporteur Olivier De Schutter noted in a 2013 report that “revenue losses from special incentives given to Australian mining company Paladin Energy, which manages the Kayelekera uranium mine, are estimated to amount to at least US$205 million (MWK 67 billion), and could be up to US$281 million (MWK 92 billion) over the 13 year lifespan of the mine.”

The official line from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is that “mining offers African countries an unparalleled opportunity to stimulate growth and reduce poverty. If well managed, the extractives sector can drive innovation, generate revenue to fund critical social services and upgrade productive physical infrastructure, and directly and indirectly create jobs.”

The reality at Kayelekera is starkly different from the picture painted by the bureaucrats in Canberra.

Two years ago, then WA Premier Colin Barnett told a mining conference in South Africa that Australian mining companies have “brought both expertise and ethical standards. It is a matter of pride for many companies that the standards applied in Australia are also applied in Africa.”

But standards at Kayelekera fall a long way short of Australian standards. Moreover, Barnett’s claims sit uncomfortably with the highly critical findings arising from a detailed investigation by the International Consortium of Independent Journalists. The Consortium noted in its 2015 report that since 2004, more than 380 people have died in mining accidents or in off-site skirmishes connected to Australian mining companies in Africa (there have been six deaths at Kayelekera). The reportfurther stated: “Multiple Australian mining companies are accused of negligence, unfair dismissal, violence and environmental law-breaking across Africa, according to legal filings and community petitions gathered from South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania, Zambia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal and Ghana.”

Not even Collin Barnett would argue that Paladin is a source of pride for Australia. Quite the opposite. Likewise, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop surely didn’t have Paladin’s open-cut mine in mind when she told the Africa Down Under mining conference in Perth in September that many Australian mining projects in Africa are outposts of good governance and that the “Australian Government encourages the people of Africa to see us as an open-cut mine for lessons-learned, for skills, for innovation and, I would like to think, inspiration.”

Julie Bishop, the WA government, Paladin and its administrators from KPMG need to liaise with the Malawian government and Malawian civil society to sort the rehabilitation of Kayelekera. An obvious starting point would be to prioritise the rehabilitation of Kayelekera if and when Paladin goes bankrupt and its carcass is being divided up. Surely Kayelekera should take precedence over debtors such as French state-owned utility EDF, which is owed US$277 million by Paladin ‒ all the more so since the French state has its own sordid history of uranium mining in Africa.

Morgan Somerville is an International Relations student at La Trobe University. Dr Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner for Friends of the Earth.

November 8, 2017 Posted by | AUSTRALIA, environment, Malawi, Uranium | Leave a comment