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First nuclear site may be approved by April

Community to have its say about Thyspunt.

The communities of Oyster Bay, Jeffreys Bay and Cape St Francis will have their say in the next few months about the construction of a nuclear reactor at Thyspunt, one of three possible sites identified for the purpose.

Thyspunt has been identified as the preferred site in two previous draft environmental impact assessments and it is expected to also be the case in the final draft report that is likely to be published in September.

Thyspunt

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The other two possibilities are Bantamsklip near Pearly Beach in the Western Cape and Koeberg outside Cape Town, where the country’s only current nuclear power station is situated.

Eskom environmental manager Deidre Herbst told Moneyweb that the utility appointed consultants in August 2006 to start with the environmental assessment. Two draft reports were published, the last in June 2011. The process stalled earlier due to budget constraints, but an updated version of the draft environmental impact assessment will be published in September.

The independent environmental assessment practitioners will then hold public meetings to consult the affected communities, where after the comments will be incorporated and the report finalised, hopefully by the end of the year.

It will then be submitted to the Department of Environmental Affairs for a Record of Decision within four months.

This decision may be appealed or challenged in court.

The application was brought by Eskom for the construction of a nuclear power station with a generation capacity of up to 4 000MW, Herbst said.

Government’s Integrated Resource Plan makes provision for a total of 9 600MW of nuclear power generation by 2030, which indicates that another project may be planned elsewhere, perhaps at a later stage.

The Department of Energy said in July that it hopes to complete its nuclear procurement and the selection of its strategic nuclear partner by the end of the current financial year.

Moneyweb visited the 3 800 hectare site at Thyspunt last week. It has about 8km of beachfront and is largely undeveloped with natural vegetation and only a handful of houses on the property, which Eskom bought from private land owners. If the project goes ahead at Thyspunt, some of these will be used for project offices, according to environmental and site manager Hennie de Beer.

De Beer says the footprint of the nuclear reactor itself, will be only about 3-4 rugby fields. The reactor will be situated about 5km from Oyster Bay and 12-13km from Cape St Francis.

He says preliminary plans are to use the current gravel road from Humansdorp for access during construction, but the permanent access will be from Cape St Francis.

He says according to current plans the nuclear building will be about 54 metres high. This is lower than the 65m high dunes behind it, which means the building won’t be visible from the land. It will be situated about 200 metres back from the water’s edge.

More than 200 holes have been drilled on the site to collect data as part of the environmental impact studies, De Beer says. Some holes were up to 80 metres deep. Ground samples were collected to compile geological, seismic and hydrological data. He says plant communities were also mapped and an in-depth archaeological study was done. While many middens (historic shell heaps) were found, nothing of significance was found in the nuclear footprint area, he says.

The wetlands on the site will be part of a conservation area and all developments will be separated from it by the adjacent dune ridge.

De Beer says a 5km safety zone is planned around the reactor, while some restrictions have been placed on developments in a radius of 16km around the proposed plant.

Local business people Moneyweb has spoken to are excited about the project.

Mandla Madwara, director of Lawrence Global Manufacturing in Port Elizabeth, says if the nuclear project comes to Thyspunt, there will be many opportunities for his engineering manufacturing company and it will increase the GDP of the Eastern Cape.

His company is currently working towards nuclear compliance in an effort to be able to register on a database of companies eligible to manufacture nuclear compliant components.

Rob and Shelley Wilson, owners of Aston Woods Bed & Breakfast in nearby Aston Bay say they would like more information on the proposed project. They are however excited and believe it will bring more business to surrounding communities and increase property values.

Leon Frolick (25) works at the till in a small shop in Oyster Bay. He says local people are struggling financially and the proposed project will make life easier for them by providing jobs and other opportunities.

Not all residents are however pleased with the prospect of a nuclear plant in their back yard.

The Thyspunt Alliance is opposing the project. According to its coordinator Trudi Malan, the alliance is not opposed to nuclear technology as such, but believes Thyspunt is the most costly of the three options due to the site specific mitigation measures required.

Malan says when Eskom started with the environmental impact assessments, they focused on the three sites that were originally identified about 25 years ago. Much has changed since then and they should have looked afresh and beyond these three for the most suitable site.

Malan says the local Kouga municipality cannot cope with infrastructure and service delivery as it is, and if the project gets the green light, residents will see the nuclear site and related needs prioritised over those of people who have been living there all along.

She says business people who expect to make lots of money are short-sighted. “Eskom’s own document shows that the tourism industry will decline by 8% during construction”.

The other pillar of the local economy, namely the chokka industry, has not been consulted properly, Malan says. She believes the industry, which supports 4 000 jobs, will suffer as chokka requires good quality water with good visibility to breed, which she fears may be compromised by the nuclear plant.

Malan says the Thyspunt Alliance had made submissions to the environmental consultants earlier, based on expert reports it commissioned. She believes the process is already flawed and says if the approval is granted, the Alliance may very well challenge the process and any substantive issues that arise from the final report in court.

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My family had a holiday home at St Francis. The beach eroded so much that the houses – which started off more than 200m form the high water mark were threatened with being washed away by the encroaching sea. I trust global warming and raising sea levels have been taken into account? It looks quite flat to me, nothing to stop the sea.

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