“If we needed to decommission Koeberg now, there would be no money” – OUTA’s Liz McDaid

OUTA’s Liz McDaid joined BizNews to discuss the issue around the National Nuclear Regulator of South Africa and transparency that OUTA (Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse) is calling out for. State-owned power generator Eskom is trying to extend the lifespan of Koeberg, a decision which the organisation is calling into question. McDaid and Bronwyn Nielsen discuss this and what decommissioning the nuclear plant would entail. – Jarryd Neves

OUTA’s Liz McDaid on decommissioning Koeberg Nuclear Plant:

We tried to ascertain from Eskom what they have put aside [to decommission the plant]. It turns out that what they put aside, firstly, is very small but also is only on paper. We know that Eskom is in debt, which means that if we needed to close Koeberg now – if we needed to decommission – there would be no money, and back to the fiscus Eskom would come. Part of the issue is that Eskom is now proposing – and the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy is backing this – that they extend Koeberg for another 20 years.

This is a plant that was built in the 1970s. We as OUTA and the public only found out about this recently (almost by accident) when we asked. There was no public transparency. There was nothing from the National Nuclear Regulator – who had the application – to say, “we’ve got this application [and] we’re considering it. Here, public, have a look.” No transparency. We are welcoming the fact that the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy is wanting to amend the National Nuclear Regulator Act. One of our strong points is that it must become more transparent. It cannot be mired in the secrecy of the past. We know that the nuclear has an apartheid legacy, but it has to stop. We have to get into a more transparent world.

On whether the National Nuclear Regulator has the appropriate regulation to proceed with this sector:

We have to ask questions about it because they seem to be operating a little bit in the dark. It’s difficult for us to know. What we can say is that we need a strong National Nuclear Regulator, because nuclear material doesn’t go away overnight. It’s here for hundreds and thousands of years. For future generations – and for the current generation – we need a strong national nuclear regulator. What we are also saying is that that needs to be financed properly.

We cannot have a situation – as we have in other mining sectors, for example – where you have ownerless mines that are just floating around. When it comes to rehabilitation, there’s no money. When you come to a nuclear site, you can’t suddenly turn around and say, “there’s no money. Sorry, guys.” We really need a strong regulator and we need one that’s [has] a solid treasury backing or the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy must allocate sufficient resources.

On the viability of extending the life of Koeberg Nuclear Plant:

Obviously, every power plant is built with a fixed life or a planned life. Any extension beyond that; it’s like having an old car. You need to spend more and more on maintenance. What is not transparent, is whether the ‘more and more’ maintenance is actually now going to be so much that it would be better to actually close it and for Eskom to invest that money in a different kind of power generation.

On the costs surrounding the decommissioning of Koeberg:

If we are going to extend Koeberg, somebody must have put the money aside – and if not, why not? Are we going to see another Kusile/Medupi thing where the costs expand and increase and we suddenly find that we pay bit by bit. They just go up and up, the actual maintenance and the build is [constantly] delayed. In the end, we as the public are paying masses for something [when actually], we could have used that money somewhere else.

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