What you’re NOT supposed to know about nuclear power

On 25 June 2003, the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism gave Eskom the About the PBMR

This demo nuclear power station will cost around R12 BILLION to get up and running, and will generate 100 MegaWatts (MW) of electricity — that’s as much energy as 55 000 kettles on the boil at any one time.

This means that more electricity for South Africa (which we need now more than ever because of Eskom’s failure to plan for, and keep up with, our country’s economic growth) so why are workers, activists, health workers and environmentalists all over the country up in arms about it?

Nuclear power has been rejected internationally as being too dangerous to workers and people who live near the power plants, it increases our chances of getting cancer and other diseases, and it’s not very cost effective.

As it is, the ill effects of Koeberg power station have not been fully documented. Now, Eskom wants to build even more, untested nuclear power stations, resulting in even more radiation and radioactive waste — all this without listening to how South Africans feel about it!

What Does Nuclear Fission Do To The Environment?
The splitting of the uranium atom creates poisonous radioactive waste which stays dangerously toxic for hundreds of years and which has to be stored away from people and animals. the radiation it generates damages the genes of people and animals.

Do We Really Need More Electricity?
Yes, we do. Electricity and energy play an essential part in health, social welfare and economic development, and by 2007 South Africa’s electricity needs will be greater than the amount which Eskom can currently produce.

However, there are tried and tested ways of generating electricity and energy from renewable sources (sources which will not run out). These methods are sustainable, clean, safe and cost-effective and include solar (photovoltaic) power, solar water heating, wind power and micro-hydro power (where even a small stream of water can be harnessed to generate electricity).

The renewable energy industry also has the capacity to create many more jobs than the nuclear industry can ever hope to create. Even more importantly, renewable energy can generate the same amount of electricity as a PBMR at a much smaller cost to South Africa’s taxpayers.

More Good Reasons To Stop The Nuclear Madness
The radioactive waste produced by nuclear power stations stays toxic for as long as 250 000 years!

Koeberg stores its high-level waste in underground drums at Vaaputs in the Northern Cape, where conditions are dry and there are few people who are put at risk.

But, one PBMR will create as much as 10 times more waste than Koeberg, and the Department of Minerals and Energy doesn’t yet have a waste plan or policy.

Do you think it’s fair to bury our problems today and hope that future generationswill be able to find a solution? Ask nuclear ‘experts’ this: why has no high-level waste site been given a licence anywhere in the world?

No News Is Bad News
Our Bill of Rights guarantees us accessto information which affects our ability to attain our rights. In other words, because we have a right to health and a clean environment, we have a right to information which can help us achieve that health and clean environment.

Eskom has never completed and epidemiological (population) studies on the effects of its low-level radiation on Koeberg’s neighbouring communities. That means that we don’t have information about increased risks of cancer and other auto-immune disorders.

But Everyone Else Is Doing It!
Nuclear “experts” in South Africa tell us that “the PBMR was developed in germany and a prototype was built and run successfully for many years.”

However, Germany did not build it on a commercial scale, and the German model — a Thorium high temperature reactor — was shut down in 1989, three years after a breakdown caused by ‘human error’ which leaked an unknown amount of radiation into the atmosphere.

Energy For The People, Or Profits For The Few?
Eskom plans to make a lot of money with the PBMR. The idea is to sell 20 reactors every year, for atleast the next 50 years, each with a pricetag of around U$100 million! Critics have serious doubts that there will be buyers for a technology with such deep teething problems.

But What’s Our Return On Investment?
After all, it’s our money which Eskon is spending on the PBMR, our lives and health which are being placed at risk. How are WE going to benefit from the profits? And should public money be spent on a business venture for Eskom anyway?

What The Government Says
“The PBMR project has come under fire in the South African press. There is concern about the fuel source and the possibility of nuclear meltdowns, about the potential environmental dangers of storing radioactive waste, about the experimental nature of the technology and lastly about the project budget which has escalated as the project has developed.

The South African Government remains committed to developing the PBMR, however, because it believes that the PBMR will prove to be a safe, cost-competitive solution to fast growing local, regional and global energy requirements.

The PBMR design is based on a German power plant that ran for 21 years and can therefore hardly be termed experimental. Nuclear power is enjoying resurgence in popularity based not only on its cost-competitiveness but also because it is the only power source capable of delivering clean energy economically and in large volumes.

The South African Government thus believes that it could have the right technology at the right time. The world market for new power stations is US$ 100 billion per year. A 3% share of this market, which the Government believes is achievable, would make this project highly profitable and create almost 56 000 jobs locally. The potential rewards from this project are so great that they far outweigh the risks of failure, as some critics would like to believe.”
Source: Department of Public Enterprises press release PMBR Made Simple

Have Your Say, Find Out More
Send a letter, email or fax to the Department of Public Enterprises and let Minister Alec Erwin know how you feel about the PBMR. Then do the same for the Department of Minerals and Energy and the Department of the Environment and Tourism.

If you’d like to get active, contact Earthlife Africa

For the official South African PMBR website, which only has good things to say about the PMBR, have a look at

For the other side of the story, Earthlife Africa has a lot of information on their website at and Werner Neubauer ‘s website at chronicles the mishaps and cover-ups of the Thorium PBMR that “went wrong” in Germany.