Energy minister Gwede Mantashe is being sued following the suspension of a National Nuclear Regulator board member who also works with a civil society group fighting against the lifetime extension of the continent’s only nuclear reactor.
The suit filed by Peter Becker, who in addition to serving on the nuclear regulator’s board is a spokesman for the Koeberg Alert Alliance, will be heard by the high court in Cape Town on 8 February, according to public documents. South Africa is legally obliged to appoint a nuclear regulatory board member who represents communities potentially affected by industry decisions.
Mantashe and the department of mineral resources & energy that he oversees, didn’t respond to a request for comment. The nuclear regulator similarly didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Becker, who was suspended on 18 January, argues in the documents that Mantashe didn’t have the legal authority to suspend him from performing his duties on the regulatory board. “The role of a board member representing the interests and concerns of communities is defined by the National Nuclear Regulatory Act” and “while I am suspended, decisions are being taken by the board without that representation”, he wrote in a reply to questions.
The court case highlights the difficulties Eskom is facing in its fight to keep its Koeberg nuclear plant in Cape Town operating until 2044. Mantashe, a former coal mining unionist and chairman of the ANC, has emerged as a vocal supporter of the nuclear industry, while drawing criticism from environmental activists.
On the same day that Becker was suspended, Eskom received regulatory permission to replace ageing equipment at the 1.8GW Koeberg plant. Three days earlier the utility said it was shutting down one of Koeberg’s two units for refuelling, while starting a programme to spend about R20-billion on new steam generators as a “precautionary safety measure”.
Proximity to Cape Town
Becker and Koeberg Alert have opposed Eskom’s plans to extend Koeberg’s operating licence because of the nuclear plant’s proximity to Cape Town, a city of four million people, citing what they say is a potential for earthquakes.
The incident raises issues of governance for civil society groups, according to Liz McDaid, who advises the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse, which investigates corruption.
“Why is this all happening at a time when a decision is being made about whether to extend the life of this reactor,” she said. — (c) 2022 Bloomberg LP