Volume 5, Journal 4 - August/Sept 2010
25 Degrees in Africa - Nuclear
Nuclear-1: South Africa’s anticipated nuclear power station
The Draft Environmental Impact Report for Nuclear-1, Eskom’s proposed nuclear power station, was made available for public review on 8 March 2010. Three sites are considered for the Nuclear-1 project, namely Thyspunt (Eastern Cape), Bantamsklip (Western Cape) and Duynefontein (next to the existing Koeberg nuclear plant in Cape Town) are being investigated to assess their environmental suitability for new nuclear plants.
Eskom appointed Arcus GIBB (Pty) Ltd as independent environmental assessment practitioners (EAPs) to undertake the environmental Impact assessment (EIA). Pressurised water reactor (PWR) technology, which has been used at the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station for the past 25 years, was chosen for Nuclear-1. This technology uses water as a coolant and moderator, but detailed descriptions of the plant are not available “as a preferred supplier has not been selected”.
According to the report, Eskom chose PWR technology due to the operational simplicity and rugged design, availability, reduced possibility of core melt accidents, minimal effect on the environment, optimal fuel use and minimal waste output.
“Nuclear energy is inherently dangerous and PWR plants have had accidents before, though not necessarily on the scale of Chernobyl. They are costly, require massive state support and often produce less than was promised,” says Tristen Taylor, Energy Policy Officer at Earthlife.
The Koeberg plant in Cape Town was built by Framatome (now Areva) and commissioned in 1984-85, it is owned and operated by Eskom and has twin 900 MWe pressurised water reactors (PWR) the same as those providing most of France's electricity (www.world-nuclear.org). The EIA estimates that the total area required for Nuclear-1 (4 000 MW) is 31 hectares and the proposed power station will include nuclear reactors and its auxiliaries such as turbine halls, spent fuel and nuclear fuel storage facilities, waste handling facilities, a desalinisation plant, transmission and distribution lines, roads, intake and outfall structures required to obtain/release water used to cool the process, the high voltage yard, and any other auxiliary service infrastructure.
According to Mike Kantey, National Chairperson of the Coalition Against Nuclear Energy (CANE), any technology is subject to human error and therefore the threat of accidents.
“Unlike airplanes and motor cars, however, a nuclear power plant accident will be catastrophic in scale. As far as routine emissions are concerned, Environmental Survey Laboratory reports sent to the National Nuclear Regulator by Eskom from Koeberg Nuclear Power Station show constant emissions of carcinogenic Cesium-137, with the highest amount of over 40-billion Bequerels per annum in 2001. For some strange reason (possibly to allay public fears) this has allegedly been reduced to below 40 000 Bq/a in Appendix B of the Air Quality Report,” says Kantey.
Kantey says the fact that the report fails to identify a specific technology is one of the principle errors. “It’s like offering somebody a brand new car that has never been built anywhere and has never been test-driven. You do not know what it is until after it has been built. In the meantime, we are expected to sign off on a vague report that is based on old technology and a power station that is yet to be built. We also have to hand over ZAR1.3-trillion plus interest on borrowings over 50 years and our electricity bills will go up immediately in order to start paying for this power station,” says Kantey.
Taylor agrees that the EIA is flawed. “The EIA seems flawed on the fact that no supplier for the reactor design is included and that the alternatives are not fully explored. We are in the process of making a formal submission on the matter.”
If the project is authorised, construction is anticipated to start in 2011 with the commissioning of the first unit in 2018. According to the National Nuclear Regulatory Act, Eskom has to submit a formal application to the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) for a nuclear installation license for the siting, construction, operation, decontamination and decommissioning of the proposed nuclear power station. This act makes provision for the NNR board to arrange for public hearings pertaining to health, safety and environmental issues.
Risks and assessments
According to the report, there is a low geological risk and no disqualifiers for either of the three site alternative sites and surrounding environment, but Thyspunt remains the preferred site for Nuclear-1. The technical specialists found that the overall positive macro-economic impacts would be greatest at Bantamskip and Duynefontein and less at Thyspunt, because the first two sites are situated in a province with a more diversified and larger economy. The cost-effectiveness analysis, however, shows that Thyspunt was a slightly better option.
Apart from CANE, an umbrella body for organisations and individuals throughout the country, there are three regional organisations opposing Nuclear-1 at each site: the Koeberg Alert Alliance (a group on social networking site Facebook); the Save Bantamsklip Campaign (www.savebantamsklip.org.za); and the newly formed Thyspunt Alliance.
Kantey believes that none of the three sites are environmentally suitable for nuclear power stations and that the Draft Environmental Impact Report shows conflicting data.
“All of the organisations opposing the project have done extensive, independent, and scientifically based interrogations of the Draft Environmental Impact Reports and found holes big enough to drive a fleet of buses through,” says Kantey.
“One of the so-called environmental problems from any nuclear power station is the longevity of the spent fuel, with another by-product Plutonium-239 having a half-life of 24 400 years. Taking seven cycles as a convenient measure for radioactive decay, you have to build a waste management facility to last over one million years.”
According to the report, the most significant impact on marine biology would be caused by offshore disposal of sediment and the release of warmed cooling water and the report says that the potential impact “will have a highly significant long-term negative effect on the marine environment” for all three sites.
Perceived risks associated with nuclear incidents are seen as the most controversial potential impact because they “could lead to a change in attitude which, in turn, could change behaviour. It is therefore important to ensure a reliable flow of relevant and correct information in order for communities to differentiate between perceived and real risks”.
“The differences between the alternative sites are slight, and all the sites would have large positive economic impacts both on the local area and the province in which they are situated,” reads the report.
Kantey says that CANE would like nuclear power to be replaced with renewable energy solutions in South Africa’s second integrated resource plan (IRP2). “We'd like to see nuclear power taken right out and replaced with an investment in energy efficiency, phase-out of coal-fired plants over 10 years, and a massive investment in Concentrated Solar Power (Northern Cape), wind power (est. 10 000 MW), wave energy (Cape Columbine to Cape Agulhas), and micro-hydro. We’d also like to see a boost to thin-film solar and solar water heaters,” says Kantey.
The current application is only for one nuclear power station, but the assessment confirms that all three sites are suitable locations for nuclear power stations. “Although there are obvious differences between the significance of the impacts of the three alternative sites, all specialists agreed that there are no fatal flaws at any of the sites (provided appropriate mitigation is implemented) and that all three alternative sites are suitable for development of a nuclear power station in time, given sufficient mitigation of impacts.”
The three proposed locations for nuclear power stations include:
• Duynefontein: adjacent and to the north of the existing Koeberg Nuclear Power Station on the Cape West Coast, approximately 35 km north of Cape Town. The site falls within the existing Eskom-owned property.
• Bantamsklip: situated mid-way between Danger and Quoin Points along the Southern Cape coast. The site is part of the total Bantamsklip property and it’s utilised for flower harvesting, fishing and illegal harvesting of abalone.
• Thyspunt: situated between Oyster Bay and St.Francis Bay on the Eastern Cape coast. The site for proposed for Nuclear-1 is currently vacant, but there are a number of houses on the adjacent properties, outside the proposed nuclear power station’s location.