Energy minister Gwede Mantashe said he suspended a community representative from the board of the National Nuclear Regulator board because he’s an opponent of atomic power.
Peter Becker, who in addition to serving on the nuclear regulator’s board is a spokesman for the Koeberg Alert Alliance, has sued Mantashe over his removal and the case will be heard by the high court in Cape Town on 8 February. Koeberg, in Cape Town, is Africa’s sole nuclear power plant. The alliance opposes the proposed extension of its life for two decades until 2044.
“You can’t be in a board of something you are working against,” Mantashe said in an interview on Newzroom Afrika on Thursday. “You are an anti-nuclear activist. You can’t sit in the board of nuclear and get all the details of the plans and go and plan a programme against that entity. It’s not allowed.”
The court case highlights the difficulties Eskom is facing in its fight to keep Koeberg operating. 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.
The minister’s comments may bring into question the impartiality of the regulator, which is supposed to decide on nuclear matters taking into the account the interests of the industry and communities affected by it.
South Africa is legally obliged to appoint a nuclear regulatory board member who represents communities potentially affected by industry decisions.
On the same day that Becker was suspended, 18 January, 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”.
The nuclear regulator said installation of the steam generators was a “business decision” made by the company. Eskom is expected to submit an application by July for the safety assessment necessary to extend Koeberg’s lifetime, the regulator said in a statement.
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, citing what they say is a potential for earthquakes. — (c) 2022 Bloomberg LP