Unions, govt set to clash over nuke plans

Anna Majavu

Anna Majavu

The powerful National Union of Mineworkers is on a collision course with the government over the latter's plans to invest R400billion into nuclear energy by 2025.

A document marked "Strictly Confidential", authored by the South Africa Power Project and Eskom, says that the government will invest R24billion in the research and development of pebble bed modular reactors (PBMRs).

PBMRs are a new type of nuclear reactor that uses graphite pebbles and very high temperatures to generate energy.

At the core of the dispute is the labour movement and environmentalist groups' questioning of nuclear energy's safety.

The unions and civil society are calling for government to instead invest in clean, renewable forms of energy such as solar power, wind power and wave technology.

The government, on the other hand, believes that nuclear energy is the route to go.

Nqaba Ngcobo, a nuclear physicist and head of parliament's energy and minerals portfolio committee, told Sowetan that " renewable forms of energy will not provide enough power to sustain South Africa".

Ngcobo believes that nuclear energy is a safe and reliable "part of a future energy mix". He says in Sweden "cities are now competing to host nuclear waste". But Num and Earthlife Africa disputes this.

"No country has an approved procedure for dealing with highly radioactive material waste that remains deadly for hundreds of thousands of years," says Earthlife Africa's Makoma Lekalakala.

Num says the risk of nuclear power remains the same as 30 years ago. The union says nuclear energy remains "the most controversial form of energy generation with catastrophic risks".

Parliament is at present debating the National Energy Bill.