Fukushima – A Human Disaster South Africa Must Avoid

Add a comment
Feature story - February 28, 2012
The March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami off the coast of Japan triggered the biggest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

Radioactive Hot Spot

A Greenpeace sign indicates a radioactive hot spot in a storm water drain between houses in Watari, approximately 60km from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. © Noriko Hayashi / Greenpeace


As months passed, it has become clear that this disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant was caused by major systemic failures in the nuclear industry.

South Africa has failed to learn from the lessons of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident. Our government is still barrelling ahead to spend what is now estimated to be R300-billion on nuclear power, but the country is vitally unprepared.

Greenpeace has concluded that there are three main systemic failures identified in Japan’s nuclear industry, all of which are of concern in South Africa as well.

These failures are:

1. Poor emergency and evacuation planning

Japan is one of the best-equipped countries for handling large-scale disasters and it found:

  • Emergency planning for a nuclear accident was not functional
  • Evacuation became chaotic, leading to many being accidentally exposed to radiation
  • The government lacked transparency at the height of the crisis, denying the obvious dangers

Emergency planning for nuclear disasters in SA is similarly insufficient:

  • The Koeberg nuclear emergency plan is based on rigid evacuation zones of circles which has proven not to work – radiation often travels much further and according to wind patterns, rather than evacuation zones.

2. Lack of accountability for the nuclear industry:

In Japan, this resulted in:

  • Confusion around who is to liable, and who will pay for the damages caused by the accident
  • Utility operators often not being able to pay the full damage costs
  • People not being compensated for personal and business losses from the accident
  • The government stepping in to pay the full costs, which means the taxpayers really pay the price.

South Africa also puts a cap on the costs a nuclear operator is liable to cover in an accident.

So the nuclear industry makes the profit but in an accident, ordinary citizens have to pay the cleanup price.

3. The close link between promoters and regulators of the nuclear industry:

The International Convention on Nuclear Safety requires that national nuclear regulators (those keeping the nuclear industry in check) are separate from those promoting it. 

But Japan and South Africa both share strong links between the nuclear industry and its national regulator:

  • SA’s National Nuclear Regulator falls under the responsibility of the Minister of Energy, who strongly promotes nuclear power.
  • This means there is a serious possibility that the NNR’s watchdog role will erode.
  • This can lead to political and economic arguments easily being put before the more pressing safety concerns.

The After Effects

The nuclear industry would have us believe that nuclear power is safe and that the risk of a reactor core meltdown is one in every 250 years, but on average, reactor meltdowns have occurred once a decade.

These institutional failures are the main cause of all past nuclear accidents, and are a warning to the rest of the world. A warning that goes unheeded in South Africa.

The South African government needs to take off their blinkers and back off from a decision that could affect us for centuries to come.

Greenpeace is calling for the South African government to phase out coal energy, say no to nuclear energy and to double its renewable energy ambitions. Sign here to tell the government to do that!

Join us to mark one year since the Fukushima nuclear disaster.