The new nuclear deal signed between the president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, and the Russian premier, Vladimir Putin, spells disaster for South Africa. Can South Africa cope with the installation of eight nuclear power plants and maintain the system diligently?
The African National Congress (ANC) party leader and President Zuma traveled to Russia recently and signed a $1 trillion Rand deal. The vast amount of money pledged to this deal would have sufficed to ensure efficient service deliveries and provide the country with a healthy management system.
South Africa does have a power problem; the history of electricity supplies and the slow growth of plants to ensure the citizens can benefit from this have caused service deliveries to decline over the past twenty years. Not only have no new plants been completed in the last twenty years, the maintenance of existing facilities has deteriorated into a neglected condition that will take years to eliminate.
The leaders of South Africa have not called for a referendum to pursue a nuclear deal. A referendum would have provided the goal players with the political, economic and social relations structure to benefit from a nuclear deal. A nuclear deal can alter the social and political structure of South Africa, and a referendum would have ensured the perfect way forward for the government to proceed. Other countries, such as Sweden and Italy, held referendums on nuclear power, and this is a persuasive argument for South Africa to consider.
Can South Africa cope with nuclear waste disposal when disposal of medical waste creates problems? It is known that medical waste disposal is best achieved by burning the remains in an attempt not to spread viruses or infection. In Gauteng, a medical waste disposal site came under the spotlight for accumulating tons of medical waste in a suburban house. The medical waste was packed from floor to ceiling due to the inability to dispose of the garbage in the legally required manner. Johannesburg has five high-tech commercial incineration facilities owned by the council and four by a private company, with many smaller incinerates around the city. The problem arises when the incinerates do not have the capacity to handle high volumes of waste delivered and thus other measures are taken, such as storage, which is gravely dangerous. The amount of incinerators might be enough to handle the medical waste today, but investment into additional incinerators is a factor that needs to be addressed, especially when problems arise.
Nuclear plants are not the usual business day norms, and the financial outlay, operational times and disastrous actions with which nuclear technology is associated does have implications that cannot be ignored. The Chernobyl disaster and the Fukushima accident and the resulting environmental damage does affect future generations. Several surveys conducted in South Africa revealed that citizens have limited knowledge on the threats of nuclear energy, the advantages and disadvantages of nuclear power or any alternatives to expanding the energy capacity.
Will disposal of nuclear waste affect the people of South Africa? It is a known fact that there is a large amount of nuclear waste in the form of uranium in South Africa. A byproduct of gold mining in the Witwatersrand complex, uranium pollutes streams, lakes and residential homes around Johannesburg. Last year, tests revealed that the radiation levels were safe but after an international investigation, people were moved from their homes based on the local finding being false.
South Africa does not deal with medical waste efficiently, and uranium waste disposal remains a problem. The establishment of building another eight nuclear reactors might have the advantage of producing a more efficient power solution for the country based on the unhurried expansion of power plants over the last twenty years. A nuclear deal for South Africa spells disaster due to the incapacity to deal with medical waste problems, current uranium disposal methods and general lack of knowledge.
Opinion by Laura Oneale