Pressure on SA Government to Stop Nuclear

Greenpeace activists wearing t- shirts reading 'No nuclear – phansi nuclear phansi!' protest in front of the Department of Energy, Pretoria, South Africa, as a reminder to the government that it needs to adopt renewable energy instead of choosing nuclear energy as an energy option. © Shayne Robinson / Greenpeace

One might wonder what 25 adults are doing, shoulder to shoulder, outside the front gate of a government department at 7:30 on a morning that reveals summer to still be a good few weeks away. I don’t wonder - I’ve been learning about South Africa’s position on nuclear energy for the past couple of weeks, and now I know why we’re on the doorstep of the Department of Energy.

Our government plans to build six nuclear reactors in South Africa by 2030.

As Greenpeace’s report on The True Cost of Nuclear Energy outlines, the government thinks this will be a cheap and sustainable solution to our energy supply crisis. It is, in actual fact, risky technology that is dangerous, expensive and polluting, would open the door to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and would lock the country into an expensive and outdated energy future.

Chernobyl and Fukushima are all the proof we need that nuclear is never safe.

Six weeks ago, we handed over our comprehensive report on the true cost of nuclear power to Energy Minister, Dipuo Peters with a demand for government to re-think its energy choice. With not a peep from the Department since then, we went looking for an answer yesterday.

Our dedicated group of Greenpeace activists was up with the sun and, after having the DoE gates immediately closed and locked on our peaceful protest, lined up in front of the Department of Energy in Pretoria, sporting t-shirts reading “No nuclear – phansi nuclear phansi!” (Down with nuclear!) as we awaited a response from the department.

After much delaying of a meeting the DoE officials evidently weren’t looking forward to, a delegation came out to meet us.

They politely received our public petition calling on the government to answer our concerns on the social and economic risks of nuclear power, and offered apologies for not responding to our earlier demands submitted six weeks ago. They also promised an official response by the end of October and then proceeded to ‘um’ and ‘ah’ around the whole nuclear energy undertaking.

A DoE official claimed that stakeholder engagement and discussion on the nuclear matter was important, but said this would only take place after the nuclear proposal had been passed by Cabinet, effectively defeating the point of having any stakeholder discussion at all.

They then cut their unwilling discussion with us short, with a promise of organising a future meeting on the topic. Before you could say “we live in an open democracy”, they were back behind their locked gates and away from any more questions.

The government response was, in short, disappointing. When will public opinion be taken into account in all this? Are we, as the citizens of South Africa, not owed an answer? Are we not deserving of a future free of the threats posed by nuclear energy?

As host of the international climate negotiations, COP17, in Durban this year, South Africa should play a leading role, both in terms of its domestic energy choices, and by debunking false energy solutions to catastrophic climate change, such as nuclear energy.

Greenpeace Africa is calling for decisive action and the political leadership required to secure the brighter future South Africans deserve. It’s about listening to the science, it’s about action and its about going renewable!