If you hear Koeberg nuclear power station’s sirens going off on 5 March, there is no need to race to the Huguenot tunnel to shelter from the fallout — it is just a test.
The station, on the coast north of Cape Town, will test its public warning system as part of its nuclear preparedness programme. They might be tested again on 6 and 7 March.
Before the sirens go off, there will be announcements over public address systems, according to a website announcement and posters around the affected areas. The test will be conducted between 10am and 12pm.
Although nuclear accidents are considered rare, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Russia in 1986 and the damage caused when a tsunami hit the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan in 2011, have increased sensitivity to the dangers of nuclear power.
Koeberg is barely visible from Cape Town, which is 30km away, but close to nature reserves and residential suburbs, as well as popular tourist beaches.
Although feared by many, nuclear power has been hailed by energy minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson as the answer to South Africa’s energy shortages because it uses sea water to operate. The government is currently working on a nuclear expansion programme.
In December 2005, Koeberg had to be shut down after a loose bolt fell into a generator.
For the testing, the warning systems are installed in Atlantis, Duynefontein, Melkbosstrand, Van Riebeeckstrand, Philadelphia, Bloubergstrand, Bloubergrandt, West Beach, Sunningdale, Parklands, Robben Island, and farms surrounding Koeberg.
Members of the public do not need to do anything. Further information on the testing, and information on assembly points should there ever be a disaster, is available from 021-550-5758/5227, during office hours.