Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Nuclear Cape Town

Twenty-seven years ago Cape Town was full of wonder at its first nuclear reactor. Since then, the station at Koeberg has performed magnificently, only missing a beat when some idiot left a piece of metal in a generator during maintenance.

However, the City of Cape Town is, mysteriously, anti-nuclear. The Cape Times municipal reporter, Babalo Ndenze, recently did an excellent job of capturing the City of Cape Town’s nuclear fears (Cape Times, August 17th). He reported that the City even believes that Koeberg has a negative effect on economic growth.

It amazes me that our City Fathers should have such short memories. Have they already forgotten that moment in 2007 when the generator failed, and Cape Town was brought to its knees? How supermarkets went dark, and millions of rands’ worth of food was spoiled? How we ate by candlelight, and laughed in gloomy cafes while we waited for our meal to be cooked on temporary stoves? How we went to bed early, bereft of our television? It was all a marvellous demonstration of the fact that not having Koeberg has a really huge negative effect.

You would think that, after 27 years of co-existence, the City would have come to value one of Cape Town's finest assets. The two reactors have churned out energy with remarkable reliability. Today their electricity is the cheapest Eskom produces, but Capetonians have to pay more, to subsidize the unfortunates in Gauteng, Mpumalanga and KZN who must still rely on coal. We are also helping to pay for the huge new stations of Medupi and Kusile, whose costs are so far above international norms that it is amazing that no-one has yet called in the Auditor General.

Instead the City is whining about how its nuclear fears have been ignored – an EIA “had not provided sufficient information on population, health and spatial planning.” Note, in someone’s judgement, there was not enough information. The topics weren’t ignored, they just didn’t get the thousands of words the City thought they needed. Instead of being constructive, and supplying any missing information about the City, our leaders copped out and whined.

Rationally, the City should now own at least one nuclear reactor. It would be the cheapest way of providing its 4 million citizens with reliable power. Instead, our leaders are putting high hopes on wind and sun, which are far more costly and not sufficiently reliable or continuous to allow the City to grow.

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