Papers were lodged with the Cape High Court this week in an application against Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson and President Jacob Zuma, aimed at stopping the country’s nuclear procurement programme.
Environmental group Earthlife Africa and the South African Faith Communities Environment Institute (SAFCEI) on Thursday announced that it had lodged an application in this regard. Other respondents are the National Energy Regulator (Nersa), Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces and the Speaker of the National Assembly. No relief is sought against these three.
The applicants, however, need money for what is expected to be a long and costly fight against government. They currently have less than R1 million available for legal costs and are busy raising more funds.
The South African government is preparing for a nuclear power procurement programme based on the 2010 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) that suggests the country will need 9 600MW nuclear generation capacity by 2030. Details about which State entity will implement the project and the structure of the procurement process are however still unknown and there is much concern about the affordability of nuclear power.
The applicants argue in their papers that Joemat-Pettersson has failed to put the necessary processes in place to ensure that the nuclear procurement is conducted lawfully and meets the requirements of the Constitution for a fair, equitable, transparent, competitive and cost-effective process.
“Notwithstanding the vast sums of money to be committed, and the potentially long-term effect on the economy and for consumers of electricity and present and future generations of South Africans, the decision to proceed with procuring these nuclear power plants (the so-called nuclear fleet), and to have concluded such procurement in the next few months, has occurred without any of the necessary statutory and constitutional decisions having been lawfully taken,” the applicants argue.
They are challenging the legality of the inter-governmental agreements between South Africa and Russia, the US and Korea, respectively. These agreements were held by the Department of Energy to be done in preparation of the actual procurement.
They are asking the court to set these agreements aside and, among other things, challenge certain decisions by Joemat-Pettersson, in consultation with Nersa, prior to making the formal determination about the amount of nuclear capacity the country needs.
They maintain a fair, equitable, transparent, cost-effective and competitive procurement process cannot take place in the current circumstances and are seeking a declaratory order in this regard.
In terms of the court rules Joemat-Pettersson and President Zuma have ten days to file opposing papers.
SAFCEI spokesperson Liziwe McDaid said the organisation does not support the notion that the country needs base load energy with coal and nuclear being the only viable options. She said a mix of renewable energy technologies as well as gas, but excluding fracking, is more appropriate.
It will be a mistake to lock the country into unaffordable nuclear projects that are in actual fact outdated technology, she said. Decommissioning of the country’s older coal-fired power stations will begin in about ten years’ time. During this period huge strides may be made with regard to technological solutions for the storage of renewable energy and that will be a better replacement for the coal-fired fleet than nuclear, she said.