The Coalition of Opponents

The coalition of opponents to the nuclear programme connects some government departments and agencies, business associations and trade unions, political parties, academic institutions, and many NGOs. The opposing coalition is larger in terms of numbers of actors and arguments. This coalition does not show a central actor pushing against the programme. It is a wide range of 40 actors with a majority of civil society organizations. The main arguments against the nuclear programme are the cost, safety of nuclear technology, and alternative solutions that include an expansion of the renewable energy programme. Numerous local and international NGOs share these views, motivated through environmental conservation concerns or place-based concerns about the prospects of having nuclear power plants built in their proximity.

The main business actors in this coalition are business associations and trade unions. The main mine worker unions (NUM, NUMSA, and COSATU) argue against the programme. The unions express concern about harmful impacts of an expensive nuclear programme on economic growth and job creation (COSATU 2015). The trade unions historically protect labour rights in the mining sectors. COSATU argues that the baseload generation argument for nuclear energy does not hold, as coal-fired plants can provide sufficient baseload to supplement renewable energy. COSATU also expresses its concerns about the possibility of human error and natural disasters, which led to the accidents in Ukraine, the United States (US), and Japan. They highlight the lack of safe waste storage and a policy framework to store waste in a secure manner. Business Unity South Africa (BUSA), South Africa’s largest business association, shares the unions’ concern about the cost of the programme. The association supports the recommendations of the national planning commission to delay the decision on an ‘extremely expensive technology option’, as electricity demand has declined (Paton 2014). A few governmental actors form part of the opposing coalition to the nuclear programme. The National Treasury has kept its eye on the cost of the nuclear programme, which is its principal argument that may lead to halting the programme.

When President Jacob Zuma first took office, he assembled a planning commission to develop a vision for the country’s development path until 2030. The first draft did not touch on the nuclear programme, but the final draft recommended to delay the decision and to conduct environmental and economic analyses to understand the feasibility of the programme first (NPC 2011). The Energy Commissioner argued against the nuclear programme stating that it would not contribute to solving the current electricity crisis and that it is more expensive than other options. He argued that Eskom does not have the institutional capacity to operate a fleet of six power plants, which would leave the operation to foreign companies. The National Energy Regulator (NERSA) argued against the nuclear programme, because of its high cost and opportunity cost of an investment in nuclear power, which would be better placed in renewable energy, which allows for power generation from independent power producers.

The opposition party, Democratic Alliance (DA), argued against nuclear power using similar arguments. Long lead times of building nuclear power plants will not solve the current supply shortages. The ANC should rather look into affordable renewable energy options than invest in an expensive nuclear programme. The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) argued that the cost for the programme is too high, the technology is not safe, and emissions reductions can be achieved through expanding the renewable energy programme (Ndlozi 2015).

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