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« Do uranium prices have room to run? | Main | Japan Struggles With Tainted Reactor Water »

Greenpeace launches anti-nuclear energy campaign

Environmental activist organisation Greenpeace has launched a campaign urging the government to abandon the move towards using nuclear energy in South Africa.

This comes on the heels of an announcement by Energy minister Dipuo Peters on Tuesday that the government will allocate more funds -- R300 billion-- towards nuclear power plant construction.

Also on Tuesday, Greenpeace released the 'Lessons from Fukushima'report, which states that the Japanese nuclear disaster of last year was a result of governmental and nuclear industry failures as opposed to a natural disaster.

The report identifies three areas in which Japan failed in dealing with nuclear crises.

"The key conclusion to be drawn from the report is that this human-made nuclear disaster could be repeated at any nuclear plant in the world," the organisation says in a statement.

Greenpeace International nuclear campaigner Rianne Teule says: "This report shows that nuclear energy is inherently unsafe, and that governments are quick to approve reactors, but remain ill-equipped to deal with problems and protect people from nuclear disasters.

"This has not changed since the Fukushima disaster and that is why millions of people continue to be exposed to nuclear risks."

The organisation says South Africa "needs to reassess its nuclear expansion plans", but says the government is showing little interest in learning from the Fukushima disaster.

Ferrial Adam, Greenpeace Africa campaigner, says: "They are barrelling ahead [with nuclear energy]. They're not listening. They're spending money in the wrong place."

The organisation will hold a panel discussion in Johannesburg tonight, where they will be discussing this issue in detail.  The discussion is open to the public.

Adam says Greenpeace invited the National Nuclear Regulator of South Africa (NNR) and the Department of Energy to attend, but both declined.

About the panel discussion, Adam says: "This is just the start. We'll be watching to see where this goes. We'll be scrutinising [the nuclear energy issue].

"We demand more transparency and honesty from the government."

One of the criticisms from the 'Lessons from Fukushima' report is the fact the Japanese taxpayer is liable for losses caused by the nuclear meltdown. The fall out in Japan has cost an estimated 500 to 600 billion dollars according to Greenpeace.

Adam says clauses in South African law limit the liability nuclear power plants pay if a disaster occurs. If a disaster happens in South Africa "the ordinary citizen will be paying for a clean-up," says Adam.

The Greenpeace report also says one of the problems leading to the Fukushima disaster was that the Japanese nuclear regulator was to closely linked to proponents of the nuclear industry and the Japanese government and was not sufficiently independent. Adam argues the same could be said of the NNR.

In a Greenpeace report titled 'South Africa: Not another Fukushima', author David Fig writes: "The National Nuclear Regulator has - in its own annual reports - reported difficulty attracting and retaining experienced personnel to carry out its mandate and is underfunded, relying in licencing fees from the industry to make up its income as a result it can never be fully independent."

Adam says the lack of independence is concerning.

While the issue of nuclear energy has been talked about, debated and scrutinised in the media, Adam feels the public also needs to be more vocal about the issue.

"If it's always organisations raising objections, the government won't do much about it," she says. "But when you've got large numbers of people standing up and saying 'This is not right', then the government will have to sit up and listen."

Adam doesn't think the government has been open enough with the public and haven't informed the public sufficiently about nuclear power and its dangers.

She says the lessons learnt from Fukushima show that the secrecy around South Africa's nuclear energy plant Koeberg is concerning. She says that Greenpeace cannot find out what happened to 91 workers who were exposed to excess radiation in an accident at Koeberg in 2010 and that very little is known about what happens at Koeberg.

"It's been a year since the Fukushima disaster," says Adam. "But it's still not safe yet, children still can't go out and play in the streets. People were evacuated from their houses and are still not sure when they'll go back.

"If a country as advanced as Japan could have this happen to them, what about South Africa?"

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