The Nuclear Saga continues – Fact or creative public relations

With nuclear saga back in the news it seems there could be a fine line between what constitutes “fake news” and what is “real”. What is fake and what is real is often dependant on which side of the proverbial fence one sits and what those publishing the news want to achieve when publishing such news. The e-mail received late Sunday claiming the nuclear process is well on its way to becoming a reality is possibly the truth for those wishing it to be real but on the other hand those wishing Thyspunt not to progress may consider it “fake” particularly as neither Eskom nor the energy ministry has issued supporting comment.

Having only read the news release for the first time so late on a Sunday it allowed little more than a cursory look to see if either Eskom or the ministry had published similar insight. The article in question certainly seemed credible and that it had been placed into the public domain by a seemingly official agency surely meant it had government blessing. The quick search of relevant web sites and news portals proved fruitless so one must question as to why the news of the nuclear go ahead has been put into public domain with no word of support from Eskom or the ministry. Until confirmation is published either by Eskom or the energy ministry we remain no closer to what really is happening. One question that should be asked however is what authority Dr Kemm has to make such far reaching claims to say nothing of his right to commit, in print, billions of state funds to the nuclear process (“the Thyspunt site development budget is R25-30-billion and all that is left with respect to the Thyspunt site is the Record of Decision (ROD) sign-off by the Minister of Environment Affairs”).

St Francis Today was possibly a little “naughty” in publishing without delving deeper into the facts but given the importance of the article to St Francis residents, we felt it important that readers were informed of the news should they not have seen it in alternative publications. Our haste was also motivated by the fact as we will be unable to publish SFT for a few weeks from Friday so felt it necessary to get the ball rolling in informing our readers.  Happily for us (SFT) we achieved exactly what we intended and have received comment that questions whether claims made in the said article are in fact a reality or simply the view of those who may have a vested interest in seeing nuclear go ahead.

Gary Koekemoer of NoPENuke, a member of the Thyspunt Alliance makes some very interesting points that certainly question Dr Kemms claims in his exclusive interview.

Gary’s response is published below.

The United States of America is the world leader in nuclear energy with ninety-nine reactors currently on-line. On the 31 July 2017, two electricity utilities announced, , that they were abandoning the building of their two nuclear reactors (at the V.C. Summer nuclear project in South Carolina) after spending $9 Billion and being close to 40% complete. This was two of the four nuclear builds currently underway in the USA and a direct consequence of Westinghouse – the American nuclear build powerhouse – declaring bankruptcy in March 2017. The last new build to come on-line in the USA (Oct 2016) was Watts Bar 2, currently the record holder for the longest nuclear plant build ever – 43 years. The nuclear (energy) world is changing. Many suggest that the industry is in terminal decline, that it is following in the footsteps of other pivotal technologies like the Concorde and the Space Shuttle – brilliant scientific feats, but no longer economically viable given ongoing operational and safety constraints.

However, listening to the public relations hype being generated by the nuclear industry one wonders if they have special access to a parallel universe. Nuclear energy advocates are good at two things: selling (only) the positives of nuclear and creating “straw men” about the opposition to nuclear. And so lobbyists, such as Dr Kelvin Kemm (CEO of Nuclear Africa and Chairperson of NECSA), emphasise jobs, energy security, constancy of supply (baseload) and scientific progress as guaranteed in-the-bank benefits. At the same time they accuse those opposed to nuclear of all kinds of evil misdeeds: being unpatriotic, anti-progress, anti-jobs, like terrorists, essentially anti-everything and then endow them with magical powers that seemingly give them unlimited abilities to make nuclear mega-projects fail. Thrown into the mix too are always comments that white-ant (think hungry termites eating something from the inside out) renewable energy.

The most recent example of this positive spin is Dr Kemm’s exclusive interview with the St Francis Chronicle in which he is quoted as saying that the recent set-back for the South African nuclear programme is simply “a bump in the road, not even a pothole” and that “fake news” (a term now made famous by President Donald Trump) was spreading false rumours that the project was either cancelled or delayed.

No one is saying the project is cancelled. But the Minister of Energy, Mmamoloko Kubayi, in an interview with energy expert Chris Yelland on Friday 4 August 2017 confirmed that, “…we have decided to relook at the whole nuclear process and the requirement for nuclear IGAs, to see if there is anything that needs improving or reworking. There are lessons to learn from what has happened before…” and “…we are reviewing the whole nuclear process, taking it to cabinet, advising them on the issues, and making recommendations.” That hardly sounds like Dr Kemm’s assertion that “we can essentially start with the site development immediately when the Environment Minister signs the ROD for the selected site”? But Dr Kemm is correct on one thing, it isn’t a pothole. It’s far greater – an entire re-set of the nuclear build programme. For a process that started in 2006/7 to go back to the beginning, there can be no doubt that this will result in further delays. To claim anything else is creative public relations, a salesman desperate to convince a sceptical client that there really is gold at the end of the rainbow.

So what is this setback? On the 26 April 2017, the Cape High Court found that the intergovernmental agreements (IGAs) between South Africa and specifically Russia, America and South Korea to be unconstitutional and unlawful. It also declared the Section 34 Ministerial Determination that made Eskom the procuring agent of nuclear as invalid, and so too Eskom’s request for information (RFI) that would have started the procurement process.

In effect, before the nuclear build can progress a number of processes must be completed. First up, the plan for electricity supply – the integrated resource plan (IRP) that decides if and when nuclear is needed – must be updated. The Minister of Energy has indicated early 2018 as the most likely date for this. Then it requires a Section 34 determination to establish who will procure the nuclear build. Thereafter, any nuclear IGA will have to be tabled in parliament before the procurement process can start – given the size, scope and nature of nuclear builds, an IGA is inevitable as South Africa cannot source the required R1 Trillion plus in any normal commercial transaction. Furthermore, before site preparation can take place the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) must issue the builder of the plant with a nuclear site installation licence (NSIL). And before that, the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) must give the environmental go-ahead (record of decision) based on the environmental impact assessment (EIA) that started in 2007 and, after five iterations, was finally submitted in mid-2016. Each of these processes includes the potential of further public participation, an appeal and a subsequent legal challenge.


Dr Kemm suggests that this whole process is “something like building a garage for your new car”. It is nothing of the sort. It is a highly complex mega-project that must overcome numerous economic, engineering, safety and legal obstacles before it can proceed. Even then, as the USA new build demonstrates, the project can be abandoned before completion. Cancelled? No. Delayed? Already years behind and more to come! Is it a done deal? Buying a lotto ticket may be a better bet.

Well you decide what is fact and what is fake!