The Department of Environmental Affairs is responsible for ensuring that our constitutional right to a healthy environment is realised, but recently the Department went against all of those principles when they granted an Environmental Authorisation for a nuclear power station to be constructed at Duynefontein in the Western Cape.

image of young boy atop the shoulders of his father, while he walks in a march against climate change.

In what can only be described as a sudden race for the finish line and under a cloud of corruption, captured politicians and questionable motives, Duynefontein has emerged as the preferred site out of three contenders. In an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process that has been heavily contested by potentially affected communities and South African citizens, the Department of Environmental Affairs has chosen a site adjacent to Koeberg. That’s right, if construction goes ahead, Cape Town is going to have not one, but two nuclear power stations.

However, choosing a site in the midst of Cape Town will only fuel the resistance that has dogged nuclear plans from the moment that they were announced. The reality is that nuclear is never safe. Combining extremely complicated and dangerous technology with the ever present risk of human error is a recipe for disaster, and Greenpeace believes that it is completely reckless for any government to be investing in nuclear when there are safer and cheaper options available through renewable energy.

People tend to see nuclear disasters as exceptional and write them off. Well paid pro-nuclear lobbyists tell us that the technology has improved and they have now fixed whatever the issue was in order to ensure that particular problem will not happen again. Yet Chernobyl and Fukushima have shown just how wrong they were. The fact that nuclear disasters happen at all is the real issue, leaving massive tracts of land contaminated and families unable to move back to their homes. Fukushima is the most recent nuclear disaster that the world has experienced, and it really is a worst case scenario of what it looks like when nuclear goes horribly wrong.

a long shot of many protesters. Fighting against climate change

A nuclear accident can result in widespread contamination of air, water and land. In Fukushima a massive land decontamination programme is underway by the government. Colossal amounts of contaminated soil has been removed and contained in bags, these have been piled in heaps to create vast waste dumps reminiscent of the mine dumps that surround Johannesburg. It is crucial that we think carefully about nuclear. In our most apocalyptic imaginings, can we even contemplate Cape Town as a nuclear disaster zone?

At the core of the matter is the Department of Environmental Affairs, tasked with the job of safeguarding our natural environment for current and future generations. They have failed all South Africans by authorising the construction of this nuclear power station, and Greenpeace - along with Earthlife Africa Jhb and SAFCEI - are appealing against the authorisation and calling on the Minister of Environmental Affairs to see reason, and say no to nuclear.