South African 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 of Cape Town on February 8. 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 the Newzroom Afrika television channel 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 program against that entity. It’s not allowed.”
The court case highlights the difficulties Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. is facing in its fight to keep Koeberg operating.
Mantashe, a former coal mining unionist and chairman of the ruling African National Congress, 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, January 18, Eskom received regulatory permission to replace aging equipment at the 1,800-megawatt Koeberg plant.
Three days earlier, the utility said it was shutting down one of Koeberg’s two units for refueling, while starting a program to spend about 20 billion rand ($1.3 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. Mantashe said a decision has been made to push ahead with the extension.
Becker and Koeberg Alert have opposed Eskom’s plans to extend Koeberg’s operating license because of the nuclear plant’s proximity to Cape Town, a city of 4 million people, citing what they say is a potential for earthquakes.
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