In no less than 9 years the government has managed to defile democracy, notions of public participation and governance, and its own stated intentions regarding nuclear energy, policy and population protection. The massive propaganda onslaught of late belies their own initial and enlightened thinking.
As a matter of interest, here is the 1998 White Paper exerpt
7.2 Nuclear energy Table of contents
Nuclear energy is a minor component of the South African energy sector, contributing about 3% during 1997 of the national primary energy supply, and about 5% of the country’s electricity, but despite its small contribution the nuclear industry has been the recipient of a major portion of the Department of Minerals and Energy’s budget. The main actors in the nuclear sector are the Atomic Energy Corporation (AEC), Eskom, the Council for Nuclear Safety (CNS) and the private sector Nuclear Fuel Corporation (Nufcor). About 2600 people are employed, 1500 by the AEC, 944 by Eskom (mostly at Koeberg), and the balance by the CNS, Nufcor and several smaller companies.
Based on projections of power demand, and taking Eskom’s current surplus capacity into account, it is not expected that more generation capacity will be required in South Africa before the year 2007 at the earliest. Whether new nuclear capacity will be an option at that point or beyond will depend largely on the environmental and economic merits of other energy sources relative to nuclear and its political and public acceptability, construction lead-times and load characteristics.
On the international front it appears that the majority of countries with nuclear generation capacity have either ceased building these plants or have slowed down plans to install additional nuclear power generation capacity, leaving France and Japan as the only Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries with a public commitment to expanded nuclear programmes. Non-OECD countries, such as a number of Pacific Rim countries (including China, Taiwan and Korea), are now seen as the main growth areas for nuclear power expansion. Scenarios developed by the International Atomic Energy Agency suggest that the share of nuclear power in electricity generation world-wide will either decrease from the present 17% to 12% or be maintained at its present level in the coming two decades. Expansion will depend on factors such as economic growth, public attitudes and approaches by decision-makers in assessing the macro-economic, health and environmental aspects of the different options available for electricity generation.
Certain nuclear materials and technologies used in the nuclear power industry can also be used for the construction of nuclear weapons, and their use is therefore subject to conditions set out under a number of applicable international treaties and conventions to which South Africa is a signatory. South Africa will have to continue fulfilling its obligations in this respect.
i. The nuclear industry in South Africa
The generation of electrical power from uranium requires:
• the mining, milling and processing of uranium ore in order to produce uranium oxide powder;
• conversion of the oxide to gaseous uranium hexafluoride (hex);
• enrichment of hex in order to increase the proportion of usable uranium;
• fuel fabrication, during which enriched hex is reconverted to the oxide which is then packed into metal-clad fuel elements;
• utilisation of the fuel elements in a nuclear power plant where they remain until spent;
• subsequent on-site temporary storage of the spent fuel for the medium term; and finally
• long-term disposal.
The sum of these activities is often referred to as the nuclear fuel cycle.
In South Africa, uranium is produced as a by-product of gold mining, the production of the oxide and its marketing being undertaken by Nufcor. Production during 1998 stood at just less than 1200 tons, generating an income of about R165 million. Most of the product is exported directly, with small amounts being beneficiated at the AEC’s Pelindaba facility near the Hartebeespoort Dam, either for export or for subsequent purchase by Eskom. The AEC’s uranium enrichment and fuel fabrication plants have been closed. The conversion plant is scheduled to close in the near future. Since 1996, AEC has identified core competencies in radiation technology, fluorination and molecular laser isotope separation (MLIS). However, the MILS programme has since been shut down.
Eskom owns and operates the 1840 MW Koeberg nuclear power station outside Cape Town. Its fuel is largely sourced on the international nuclear fuel market, in a combination of long-term contracts and spot market deals. At present spent fuel is stored on site at Koeberg, but these storage facilities are likely to be filled by the third quarter of 1999, by which time new temporary storage facilities with a higher racking density will be in place. Other radioactive wastes produced during operations at Koeberg are currently being disposed of at the Vaalputs national radioactive waste repository, near Springbok in the Northern Cape. Vaalputs is maintained and operated by the AEC, which recovers operating costs from Eskom.
At present a national radioactive waste management policy has not yet been established, nor has the suitability of Vaalputs for long-term disposal of spent fuel from Koeberg been investigated. These policy matters will have to be addressed in the near future.
ii. Governance of the nuclear industry
The Nuclear Energy Act of 1993 governs the country’s nuclear sector and is administered by the Department of Minerals and Energy. It also establishes the functions of the Atomic Energy Corporation and the Council for Nuclear Safety. The AEC is responsible for developing technological expertise in the field of nuclear fuels, promoting the development and application of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, exercising control over the management of radioactive waste and administering the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the International Safeguards Agreement on behalf of the State. (The latter are international treaties that are administered globally by the International Atomic Energy Agency.) The CNS regulates and controls the nuclear industry through the issuing of licenses, except for the medical uses of radioactive materials and industrial radioactive sources, which are controlled by the Department of Health. In addition, the Department of Foreign Affairs represents government in the negotiation of international nuclear agreements.
The Department of Minerals and Energy has drafted two bills, namely, the Nuclear Safety Bill and the Nuclear Energy Bill and Cabinet has approved them. The two bills seek, amongst others, to ensure a clear public differentiation between the nuclear regulatory functions (CNS) and nuclear industry activities (AEC). At present both bodies are governed by the same act, which leads to perceptions that they are not separate from each other.
In defining its policy on regulation, Government recognises the difference between nuclear installations, on the one hand, where the potential exists for acute exposures and catastrophic accidents, and therefore requiring a special liability regime with compulsory financial security, sophisticated safety assessment to ensure that the risk is engineered to acceptably low levels, and where the high level spent fuel waste requires specially engineered storage and disposal facilities. On the other hand there are other industries where relatively low levels of naturally occurring radioactivity are by-products of the process, where the hazard can be controlled within the overall occupational/industial hygiene programme and the risk is covered by a regular civil liability regime, and where the mostly huge volumes of waste containing low levels of radioactivity is not amenable to engineered disposal facilities.
iii. Challenges for the nuclear industry
Government proceeds from the understanding that the current situation in the nuclear sector is a product of an historical context, which differs substantially from that facing the country today. For this reason two types of problems require resolution: firstly, what long-term contribution can nuclear power make to the country’s energy economy and, secondly, how can the existing nuclear industrial infrastructure be optimised? Intrinsic to the latter challenge is the recognition that the nuclear industry, and especially the AEC, is a repository of scientific and technical expertise that could be of great benefit to the country. Government is therefore faced with both long-term policy questions and shorter-term managerial issues. In the long term, government needs to provide direction on the role of nuclear power within the country’s overall energy mix, while in the short to medium term it needs to:
• be satisfied that the Koeberg power station and the AEC nuclear facilities are operated in a safe and optimal fashion;
• assess the activities, financing and possible restructuring of the Atomic Energy Corporation;
• ensure harmony between the AEC’s scientific and technical research and development programmes, and national policy for these areas;
• develop a radioactive waste management policy and programme;
• ensure that environmental impacts arising from the use of nuclear materials are receiving proper evaluation;
• improve the governance of the nuclear sector and ensure its integration into broader energy planning; and
• separate nuclear energy matters from other matters relating to the nuclear sector.
Relevant to the above, it must be recognised that the nuclear sector is not static but is already undergoing change, for an example, as a result of the implementation of the 1990 ‘AEC 2000 Plus’ strategic and business plan, and because of general restructuring of state-owned assets.
Government therefore intends to undertake any restructuring of the nuclear industry that may be necessary to ensure the environmental sustainability and cost-efficiency of South Africa’s energy economy, while seeking maximum benefit from historical investment, and will do so in a participatory fashion.
iv. The future role of nuclear power in South Africa
Whilst it is unlikely that additional nuclear capacity will be required for a number of years, it would not be prudent to exclude nuclear power as a supply option. Decisions on the role of nuclear power, as with any other supply option, need to be taken within the context of an integrated resource planning process. Government policy on this approach is presented in the sections on Electricity, and Environment, Health and Safety. Eskom is currently conducting feasibility studies on the possibility of constructing a pebble bed modular reactor (PBMR) nuclear power station.
Government will ensure that decisions to construct new nuclear power stations are taken within the context of an integrated energy policy planning process with due consideration given to all relevant legislation, and the process subject to structured participation and consultation with all stakeholders.
v. Koeberg nuclear power station
In light of the questions that have been raised about the true cost of operating Koeberg nuclear power station, and the concerns voiced amongst communities and environmental groups, government wishes to provide clarity about its expected future life-span.
As part of the IRP process government will investigate Koeberg’s economic and technical performance, including long-term costs and the implications of radiological safety, emergency planning, decommissioning and waste disposal, to determine the optimal period for operating the plant. The parameters for the enquiry will be set by government.
The investigation into Koeberg will be conducted in the context of the long-term planning horizon for the South African power sector, and with consideration of the full life-cycle costs of running Koeberg as well as that of realistic alternatives.
The results of the investigations will be made available for public scrutiny and comment before a final decision is made on the future of Koeberg.
The continued operation of the Koeberg power station cannot be assessed on its own merits, but has to be considered in the context of alternative energy supply options, and as part of an integrated resource planning process.
vi. Atomic Energy Corporation
AEC’s strategic role as a nuclear fuel supplier to Eskom has stopped. Because the AEC resulted in large part, from a policy content that no longer applies, its role in South Africa’s further development needs to be carefully assessed. Toward this end and during 1997, an Inter-Ministerial Cabinet Committee for Science and Technology mandated the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology (DACST) to initiate and manage an evaluation of 11 South African technology institutions, including the AEC. At the same time, an initiative by the AEC’s Board to determine the future role and structure of the AEC was also started. Both these reviews have made recommendations which, amongst others, suggest that the commercial activities of the AEC be separated organisationally from its institutional responsibilities.
From the above two studies, Government has identified the following three broad organisational activities for the AEC that need addressing:-
First, an organisation that carries out institutional responsibilities on behalf of the State. These responsibilities may include:
• decommissioning and decontamination of past strategic nuclear fuel facilities;
• the management of nuclear waste disposal on a national basis;
• the application of radiation technology;
• operating the Pelindaba site and services;
• execution of the safeguards function with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the African Co-operative Agreement (AFRA) and the Treaty of Pelindaba; and
• technical co-operation activities with IAEA/AFRA.
Second, a separate organisation that houses all of the AEC’S commercial activities (even those that are still under development). An evaluation of all of the AEC’s commercial activities must be undertaken to ascertain their future viability.
Third, the role of SAFARI, the AEC’s isotope-producing reactor, must be thoroughly evaluated to determine the viability or necessity of the following three areas :
• its commercial viability in producing large-scale isotopes for the export market;
• its possible expanded use for academic research and training; and
• its strong geo-political role in terms of its usefulness to the IAEA/AFRA technical co-operation activities within Africa.
Government will consider the proposals that AEC must be restructured in such a way that it is divided into two separate and independent organisations: one dealing with commercial activities and the other dealing with institutional responsibilities on behalf of the State.
Restructuring will take place in terms of the Government policy on rationalisation of State-owned assets.
Government will investigate the role of the SAFARI Reactor in order to determine which activity areas are needed or viable.
The above policy proposals will further inform the decisions on the desirability of further fiscal support of AEC activities .
vii. Radioactive waste management
In the absence of a national policy, one of the most pressing issues around nuclear energy concerns the management of the radioactive waste produced by the various stages of the nuclear fuel cycle. The AEC stores its radioactive wastes on site at Pelindaba, but recent events have highlighted a number of problems in this area. Although some wastes from Koeberg are disposed of at the Vaalputs repository, there are no final decisions on how to deal with its spent fuel in the long term. In fact, previous governments neither formulated a national policy on radioactive waste, nor did they institute a programme of management for such waste.
The Department of Minerals and Energy will investigate all aspects of the management of radioactive waste in South Africa and will make recommendations in regard to the safe management and disposal of such waste, following a process, which is subject to structured participation and consultation of all stakeholders. An IEP approach will be considered by the Department of Minerals and Energy in consultation with the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism.
The report will inform the development of government policy on the management of radioactive waste and must address issues around all radioactive waste, the role and most appropriate form of ownership and management of Vaalputs, and the role and management of other nuclear material repositories.
viii. Safety, Health and Environmental Impact
It is essential that nuclear installations in South Africa are operated in a safe manner and that assurance is provided in this regard. A serious nuclear accident can have devastating consequences, not only for the workers and surrounding population, but also for the economy of the country. Assurance (through competent licensing and operation) must therefore be maintained at all times such that the probability of a serious accident at nuclear installations remains acceptably low.
Government will monitor on an ongoing basis relevant aspects of the nuclear industry to obtain assurance of safety in general.
The CNS is accountable to the Minister of Minerals and Energy and is responsible for regulatory oversight of the nuclear industry to ensure the safety of workers and the public, through a licensing process, especially related to those nuclear facilities where a potential exists for accidents which may result in catastrophic radiological consequences.
The Department of Minerals and Energy will monitor on an ongoing basis the effectiveness of policy and adequacy of regulatory oversight.
The operators of nuclear facilities (Eskom, AEC) are responsible for the safety of their facilities, especially related to operations, maintenance, radiation protection, effluent and waste management, environmental monitoring, emergency planning and decommissioning. It is essential that such operators have sufficient independent structures within their organisations to provide internal assurance of compliance with safety requirements. The Department of Minerals and Energy will address this aspect as part of the undertakings in this policy document to investigate aspects of the nuclear industry.
In the light of perceptions around health and safety issues associated with the nuclear industry, government believes that an impartial evaluation of these issues is required.
The Council for Nuclear Safety will produce, and submit to the minister, an annual public report on the health and safety circumstances associated with all major nuclear installations.
• Nuclear Emergency Planning
Although the probability of a serious nuclear accident is very low the potential serious consequences requires the establishment of a nuclear emergency plan and that restrictions be placed on population development around nuclear facilities. A serious accident will require national co-ordination and it is essential that governmental mechanisms are in place to deal with such a contingency.
Restrictions on population development around nuclear facilities also have socio-economic implications.
Government will monitor the arrangements for national disaster planning and the restrictions on population development around nuclear facilities.
• Clarifying nuclear industry governance
Governance systems within the nuclear sector evolved under strategic conditions, which required great secrecy, as a result of which integration with other energy sectors was minimal. Given the nature, and outcomes, of past nuclear policy formulation processes, transparency and participation in nuclear sector governance will be ensured to restore public confidence in government’s nuclear energy policies.
Governance policy for this sector needs to ensure the adequate definition and separation of roles, distinguishing in particular between the functions of policy makers, regulators, administrators and nuclear energy operators.
The Department of Minerals and Energy will investigate and clarify functions of bodies associated with the nuclear industry, including the Atomic Energy Corporation and the Council for Nuclear Safety, as well as any other institution with governance functions over this industry, for example Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, and Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, who will be consulted.
a. Separation of nuclear energy and other nuclear issues
Governance of nuclear issues not associated with the energy sector, such as the administration of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and Safeguards Agreement, needs to be separated from nuclear energy governance in order to ensure effective policy making and the efficient utilisation of national resources.
The Department of Minerals and Energy will investigate the implications of separating the governance of nuclear energy issues from that of other issues associated with the use of nuclear materials.
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