I remember reading a newspaper article a few years ago addressing the concerns over the possible construction of a pebble-bed nuclear reactor about 50 kilometers from my then hometown. I can vividly recall the diagram showing concentric rings depicting the area which would be devastated should a catastrophic melt-down occur. Right there, just within the border of the outermost ring was the little circle of Midrand.
I was terrified at the prospect, but I was also only about 13 years old and I soaked up the fear mongering, convincing myself that should a nuclear reactor be built so close to home, I would surely end up with all kinds of terrible, radiation induced deformities.
I relate this story because that was the first thing I thought of when I read this news24.com article today. While we all understand the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) principle, we have to seriously consider the arguments brought forward by Tyrone Smith.
There are a few claims made by Mr. Smith which are untruthful, misleading and outright ridiculous!
The first important point for consideration is that Thyspunt has been proposed as a possible site for the construction of a nuclear reactor, but such construction is a long way off. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study performed by ESKOM and freely available online outlines the careful process by which five separate sites in the Eastern, Northern and Western Cape areas were evaluated for the construction of this reactor. Here are the findings of the study as presented on page 18 thereof;
7. SUMMARY OF POTENTIAL SIGNIFICANT ISSUES
It is important to stress that the inferences below are unsubstantiated and are based on
an intuitive assessment.
· It is possible that the normal operation of a reactor at Thyspunt and Bantamsklip
could limit future tourism development with significance for the local and provincial
economies. A substantial nuclear incident could have significant economic costs for
tourism and the associated Eastern Cape and Western Cape economies.
· It is possible that a substantial nuclear incident at Duynefontein could have a serious
impact on tourism in the Western Cape, with significant national economic costs.
· It is possible that the normal operation of a reactor at Schulpfontein or Brazil could
promote tourism locally, with economic benefits accruing at the local level. A
substantial nuclear incident is unlikely to permanently diminish the Namaqualand
tourism asset as a whole. This assumes that no major tourism developments are in
the planning process at present.
From this summary it would be reasonable to infer that the Thyspunt site would not be the first choice for the construction of this reactor.
I would now like to address some of the exagerated claims made by Mr. Smith;
“Local and international surfers…will not fancy a surf in radioactive waves” This statement demonstrates Mr Smith’s lack of understanding of the principles of a water cooled nuclear reactor. Approximately two thirds of the energy produced by a nuclear power plant is wasted thermal energy (this is comparable to coal fired power stations). This excess energy needs to be dissipated into the environment and using the water as a carrier is sensible (as this water is already used in the reactor to move the turbine).
The water can either be expelled from cooling towers as water vapor (literally a cloud) or can be discharged into large bodies of water. It is important to note that this water is NOT radioactive.
All radioactive waste is treated with the utmost care as it is extremely dangerous. For a detailed description of how the solid waste is handled please click through to Wikipedia or the California Energy Commission which has an exhaustive archive of material on the subject.
“The organisation said seawater would be used to cool the proposed plant’s condensers and then returned to the ocean.” This is factually incorrect and demonstrates Tyrone Smith’s ignorance on the functional aspects of the proposed nuclear reactor.
The remainder of Mr Smiths argument is purely fear mongering. He is trying to create public outcry by telling us that marine wildlife (including everyone’s favorite marine rapist, the dolphin) will get sucked into the water extraction pipes and be killed in the filters. This seems pretty far fetched to me and I am certain that Eskom would rather mashed-dolphin proof their cooling system before it is installed, instead of trying to clean it up after the fact.
A nuclear reactor is a finely tuned machine and it’s neither Eskom nor the South African government can afford the possible complications of sucking marine animals into the system.
I think the final point which needs addressing is the risk of a nuclear disaster. Can you name three such incidents in the course of mankinds use of nuclear reactors. It’s only been about fifty years. Okay, I’ll give you a hand;
That’s right, only two major nuclear melt downs have occurred. TWO. And no deaths were reported as a result of Three Mile Island. NONE.
Smaller incidents have occurred, but only two major incidents in the history of nuclear energy generation. The nuclear reactors which would be used in Eskom’s proposed installation would be of a later generation then those used at three mile island, and are known to be safer.
In conclusion, while I am sure that there are many areas in which Mr Smith’s knowledge surpasses my own, like sex wax and right handers, I do not think that he is knowledgeable enough in the arena of nuclear reactors to have his thoughts published.