S. African bishop says government should scrap nuclear power; expand renewable energy sources

(Photo: LWF/ Rodrick Beiler)Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, dances with Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of South Africa to celebrate some 1.8 million signatures on an interfaith petition for climate justice during the COP21 climate summit in Paris, France.

The Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, has appealed to the South African government to scrap plans for developing nuclear energy and instead spend the money on education, training and other development initiatives.

The archbishop said in a statement issued from the church's Synod of Bishops Feb. 22 coming at a time that faith and environmental groups are issuing a court challenge to a secret nuclear deal the government has struck up with Russia.

"The Synod of Bishops has revisited the resolution adopted by the church's Provincial Synod last September, in which the church expressed its opposition to the expansion of nuclear energy and urged the government to pursue the path of renewable energy initiatives.

The bishops noted that South African President Jacob Zuma committed the government in the 2016 State of the Nation address to procure new nuclear energy only on a scale and at a pace that the country can afford.

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"We also welcome the president's acknowledgement in this year's State of the Nation address that renewable energy will be an important part of the mix of energy sources in the future.

But the bishops said that nuclear energy still remains part of the mix, despite a resource by the Department of Energy's which concluded that additional nuclear power, originally expected in 2023, will not come on stream until 2037.

Makoba, who has frequently campaigned on environmental issues said he had written to Zuma last year conveying his church's appeal in which he noted that South Africa already has progressive renewable energy initiatives that could lead to greater sustainability and flexibility.

"Solar and wind generation of power is becoming cheaper and cheaper to develop. By 2037, the energy generation scenario is likely to have changed completely.

"The priority for our country is the education, training and well-being of its citizens. We should not impoverish the country through incurring unaffordable debt through attempting to obtain loans or providing guarantees for Eskom [the national electricity company] to raise loans for nuclear power stations," said Makgoba.

"We are deeply concerned that an expanded nuclear energy program will become an albatross around the necks of our children. And we cannot leave to the generations to come the task of disposing of our nuclear waste."

Makgoba said the bishops believe South Africa has the potential of becoming a renewable energy hub for Africa, with huge potential for investment in manufacturing and associated employment.

"We note that overseas investors are queuing up to invest in our renewable energy program and since the design of the program is such that they provide the finance, this does not burden our people."

ENVIRONMENT JUSTICE GROUPS

Environmental justice groups have renewed a challenge to the government's planned expansion of nuclear energy in a court hearing in currently Cape Town.

In November the Southern African Faith Communities' Environment Institute said a closed meeting on a nuclear build plan reinforces the perception that government has something to hide.

The institute said that, according to South Africa's constitution, the National Assembly may not exclude the public, including the media, from a sitting of a committee unless it is reasonable and justifiable to do so in an open and democratic society.

"What is it that we are not allowed to know? Why is it secret now, four weeks before we go to court?"

The Southern African Faith Communities' Environment and Earthlife Africa JHB are challenging the government over an intergovernmental agreement it signed with Russia that it believes was intended as a done deal, which would have been illegal.

The South African government does not understand why everybody is picking on its agreement with Russia to possibly supply nuclear power infrastructure when similar agreements have been made with France and China, the Western Cape High Court heard on Feb. 23.

It was not even a commercial agreement which would need a budget approval, just a ''proposed partnership'' agreement for now, said Department of Energy lawyer Marius Oosthuizen for the government.

''Why can't South Africa ask Russia to help out with nuclear power?'' Oosthuizen asked.

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