Posted on April 3, 2012 / Comments Off / Show post tags
Nukes. The very word sends shivers down many a spine and conjures up images of radiation ravaged victims of Chernobyl and, more recently, thousands of Japanese fleeing their homes after the Fukushima meltdown only a year ago.
It’s easy to get hysterical about nuclear power. And you’d be well justified to have a healthy fear of it — it is, after all, the single most destructive force man has ever created. What’s tougher, though, is taking a level-headed approach and logically looking at why, or even if, nuclear power should be a part of South Africa’s energy future.
That’s exactly what our two experts, Dawid Serfontein and Peter Becker, have done in this edition, arguing for and against South Africa’s R1 trillion nuclear energy programme in our “big nuke debate” in the latest edition of The Big Issue. The two opponents have done a mighty fine job of laying out the key arguments so that we can all come to grips with the pros and cons of government’s plan to take SA down the uranium road, and then make up our own minds if we support it or not.
However, there is one point I’d like to throw in which hasn’t been covered in this debate, and that’s the Big C. No, not cancer (even the radiation-induced kind). I’m talking about a more likely side-effect of the massive investment into nuclear power: corruption.
SA’s nuclear programme will be the single biggest tender ever issued in our history. Just think about the corruption the arms deal’s been mired in. And the R70 billion arms deal is small change in comparison to the nuke contract, which is estimated to be worth between R500 billion and R1 000 billion, depending on which costs you choose to include or exclude (I’m going with R1 trillion).
Scratch the surface of almost any nuclear power project worldwide and you’re bound to discover brown envelopes and questionable deals. South Africa’s already had a taste of this with its diabolically failed foray into the nuclear world with the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR). That white elephant project wasted R9 billion of taxpayers’ money while lining the pockets of a select few.
The tender for SA’s R1 trillion nuclear contract is only due to be issued later this year, but already graft concerns are mounting. DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko frothed at the bit to sound the alarm that “there are reports government is being strongly lobbied about this tender by companies such as Areva (France) and Westinghouse (United States) who are desperate to get in on the action”.
She’s off the mark, I reckon. The strong “lobbying” is coming from the French and Chinese governments which are openly flirting with ours in the hopes of landing the prized contract together. Foie gras and shark fin soup dinners anyone?
Also, consider how easy it will be to keep a gluttonous pig-out at the nuke tender trough well away from public scrutiny should the Protection of State Information Bill go ahead. In its current form, the draconian Secrecy Bill will allow government to classify any document pertaining to their overly-broad definition of “national security”. And what’s more secret than a country’s nuclear power programme?
The Secrecy Bill does say state secrets shouldn’t be used to cover up corruption, but the arms deal showed us just how easy it is for government to hide financial shenanigans under the guise of “national security”.
I’m not the only one worried about this. I chatted to an official at the Right 2 Know campaign, and he had this to say: “It’s our experience that the nuke boys — in fact, most players in the energy sector — already have a huge problem with openness. And they’ve always been eager to fall back on ‘national security’ justifications to bury information that should be in the public’s hands. It’s not an over-reach to suggest that the big boys in the nuke industry will use any tactic to shut the public out of their business, and would welcome such provisions in the Secrecy Bill.”
Of course it’s premature to call corruption, and maybe by some miracle there will be transparency and accountability in the big nuke deal. But who’re we trying to kid? My money — and there ain’t a lot of it lying around after the latest electricity tariff hike — is that our country’s nuclear programme will create a new type of high-level waste: nuke tenderpreneurs. Beware: they’re hazardous to SA’s health.
Editor, The Big Issue SA
Follow her on Twitter @MelBendix