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Religous leaders unite against nuclear energy

Feb 04 2015 16:38
Matthew le Cordeur

Bishop Geoff Davies says a prayer during the vigil against nuclear energy at parliament in Cape Town on Wednesday. (Photo: Matthew le Cordeur)

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Cape Town – Instead of fighting over differences of religious beliefs, an institute of various faith leaders stood united on Wednesday at the steps of South Africa’s parliament to hold a vigil and protest against President Jacob Zuma’s push for nuclear energy development.

The Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute (Safcei) have held the vigil every week since the news emerged in September 2014  that Zuma had allegedly struck a deal with Russia to build about eight nuclear power stations, which would cost the country around R1trn.

Read: SA signs nuclear deal with Russia

Faith communities expressed serious disquiet about government’s proposal.

“People don’t like to be told that their policies are foolish,” said Safcei patron Bishop Geoff Davies. “But this nuclear policy is not only foolish, it is immoral.”

Read: Open letter to the minister of finance

Renewable energy the key

“Our electricity shortages are best addressed by increasing renewable energy which comes online within two to three years, combined with energy efficiency, rather than pursuing nuclear power which is notorious for its cost over runs and delays,” said Safcei spokesperson Liz McDaid.

“A nuclear power plant that takes 10 years to build will not help Eskom keep lights on in 2015, while solar and wind power plants that have come online now are helping to ease the current shortages.”

Safcei has been supported by the Open Democracy Advice Centre in pursuing its access to information applications, and, in response to the department of energy’s refusal to release information about the proposed nuclear agreements, is now investigating further legal action.  

Watch the protest and interviews from earlier:

Video filmed and edited by Matthew le Cordeur.

Secrecy of the deal

“Our democracy is being threatened by the government’s secrecy over nuclear and we have got to listen to what the people are saying,” Davies said. “We have not been consulted.”

“Such secretive deals clearly raise the spectre of corruption,” said Safcei board member Buddhist Ani Tsondru.

“International vendors are not charities and will negotiate deals that provide them with the best returns,” she said. “Our energy security will be compromised and the people of South Africa will be left powerless.”

“Our democracy is at stake.”

Safcei called on cabinet to ensure transparency, conduct due diligence studies, and appealed to parliament to hold government to account and demand answers.

Access to information

In November 2014, Safcei submitted a number of PAIA (Promotion of Access to Information Act) applications to government departments regarding the nuclear framework agreements, departments including treasury and the department of energy.

Safcei asked treasury for all “tecords reflecting decisions taken related to the financial obligations and the economic impact of the decisions reflected in intergovernmental agreements on current strategic partnerships and co-operation in nuclear energy” in terms of the PAIA.

In its response to Safcei, the treasury admitted that they had not given any input into the financial implications of any nuclear deals and Safcei voiced its concern that the “South Africa nation has entered into an international agreement without doing their financial homework”.  

The department of energy has also responded to Safcei’s application for information regarding the nuclear deals.

It refused to release any affordability or feasibility study because the process of deciding on the nuclear build involves “technical, scientific and commercially sensitive information and if released prematurely could prejudice the interests of the other parties, as well as the State and negatively impact on the process”.

However, Safcei’s response from treasury to a similar request regarding the nuclear deals was that “no decisions related to the financial obligations and economic impact have been taken by the National Treasury”.

“The process to determine whether South Africa should build new nuclear capacity should be determined by South Africans and open to public scrutiny; firstly on the constitutional principle of democratic participation by the people of the country in decisions that affect them, and secondly because such a decision would impact negatively on the electricity price, which would have a major impact on business growth and on energy security for the poor,” said McDaid.  

Listen to the full interview with Ani Tsondru:

* What is your view on the nuclear energy deal? Tell us now.



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