Court ensures compliance with nuclear rules
Publish date: 05 December 2017
Issue Number: 536
Diary: Legalbrief Environmental
Government was likely to find it harder to push through a nuclear deal after the Western Cape High Court (Cape Town) last week ruled that proper public consultation processes, as determined earlier this year, would have to be followed, reports Fin24. In court, Energy Minister David Mahlobo and Eskom pledged to adhere to the rules for public consultation set down by the court in April. The court hearing was the result of an urgent application brought by environmental and faith-based groups who feared government was planning to speed up the nuclear procurement process without adhering to the rules set down in April. Earth Life Africa and the Southern African Faith Communities' Environment Institute (Safcei) were concerned that Mahlobo's invitation to civil society organisations to this week's Energy Indaba would be used to justify public participation for the nuclear deal. The groups feared that the Minister would use the Indaba to speed up the Integrated Resource Plan and Integrated Energy Plan public participation processes to push through nuclear as an energy requirement. However, the court ruled that this would not be sufficient. In affidavits, both Eskom and the Minister committed to following the proper legal processes. This, according to Judge Lee Bozalek, was a procedurally fair public participation process to be followed by Nersa before the Minister can exercise his powers under Section 34(1) of the Energy Regulation Act. Advocate David Unterhalter SC, for Earthlife and Safcei, asked the court to suspend the application pending any violation of the undertakings made by Eskom and Mahlobo.
The Energy Indaba scheduled for Thursday and Friday will focus on ways to promote inclusivity and transformation in the energy sector, the Department of Energy said yesterday. The agenda was unknown until yesterday. A Beeld report notes that the indaba is mired in controversy as activists suspect the indaba will be used as a ‘consultation’ process for nuclear procurement. Robyn Hugo, attorney of the Centre for Environmental Rights, says the two applicants in the recent litigation against the government – Earthlife Africa and religious group Safcei – didn’t receive invitations issued by Mahlobo while other NGOs and academics were included.
The Federation of Unions of SA (Fedusa) said last week that SA could not afford nuclear electricity, adding that the country should rather focus on achieving economic and political stability. According to a Cape Argus report, Standard and Poor’s ratings agency downgraded the country’s local-currency debt score to junk status, or sub-investment grade, last month. Moody’s Investor Services meanwhile has placed the country on review for a downgrade in February 2018, after Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba tables the Budget in Parliament. According to the country’s Integrated Resource Plan, SA is planning to build eight nuclear reactors, at a cost of R1trn, that will generate 9.6 gigawatts of power. Fedusa general secretary Dennis George said that, globally, moves away from nuclear to renewable energy sources have proved to be far cheaper and better for the environment. The government’s failure to abort the nuclear programme would continue to motivate rating downgrades, he warned.
Actvists simulated a nuclear disaster outside the Department of Environmental Affairs building in Pretoria last week. This was in protest against the environmental authorisation that has been issued for a nuclear power station to be built at Duynefontein, north of Koeberg in the Western Cape. According to a City Press report, the protest, led by activists of Greenpeace Africa and Earthlife SA, saw the main entrance of the building being blocked off with nuclear barrels, and activists dressed in white nuclear suits. ‘The protest highlights the fact that nuclear is dangerous and expensive and should not be under consideration in SA,’ Greenpeace Africa said. ‘A detailed appeal will be submitted to the Minister later this week. Greenpeace, Earthlife Africa and the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute will consider their legal options in terms of the way forward, pending a decision on the appeal by the Department of Environmental Affairs,’ Greenpeace said.
A leading engineering academy has added its voice to the anti-nuclear lobby, urging government and Eskom to put its plans on hold as it was not in the best interests of the country at this time. TimesLIVE reports that the SA Academy of Engineering (SAAE) president Trueman Goba said this week's indaba should be postponed to January 2018 to allow for proper planning, including the release of a draft IRP by the Department of Energy to allow meaningful participation by all relevant stakeholders. He said it was essential that IRP should be regularly updated so SA's power plan could be aligned with recent and rapidly changing developments. The academy's exco, he said, therefore requested that the ad hoc processes should be stopped and government should instead engage with relevant research groups and industry associations in a well-planned, facilitated and documented process to discuss and agree on the best available input parameters for the modelling of alternative scenarios for the IRP.
There were a number of issues that still needed to be addressed, the academy said, adding that several organisations, including the CSIR had raised concerns about a number of aspects of the draft IRP document. Goba said they were also concerned that President Jacob Zuma had appointed three different Energy Ministers in two years, and the Minister of Public Enterprises had appointed four new CEOs at Eskom in one year, notes the TimesLIVE report. Another factor that appeared to have not been taken into account was that there would be an oversupply of electricity until at least 2022 and any additional capacity would therefore be redundant.