Eskom consultants under fire at nuclear meeting

Eskom consultants’, Acer, came under fire at the end of last month for ignoring the objections and feelings of residents through the building of a nuclear power station 10 kms away from St Francis Bay.

Moreover 200+ St Francis, JBay and Plett residents, who packed the conference room at St Francis Links felt the consultants’ decision to use the R330 road from Humansdorp, across the Kromme, as its main route to the proposed nuclear power plant at Thyspunt, would destroy the quality of their lives and devalue their properties. Thyspunt is one of three sites (the other two are Bantams Klip and Duynefontein in the Western Cape) where Eskom could build a nuclear power station. Acer has, however, reiterated that Thyspunt is its preferred choice.

The meeting, at which there was a strong police presence, was called by Arcus Gibbs  and Acer to present its revised EIA Draft Report and to elicit early feedback, from affected parties. The power utility body announced that the public have until 7 August 2011 to comment. But as most residents noted during the past year nothing much had changed.

Even though many objections were raised and copious written comments were submitted to Acer, speakers said their serious concerns, such as the effect the construction of the power plant would have on the squid industry, were belittled by Acer consultants or specialists. During comment time Chris Barratt of the Thyspunt Alliance stated: “We are not happy that the input by parties has been ignored. Goalposts change every time we come into this room. Why?” he asked, adding that the whole EIA process lacked credibility.

 “We are concerned about the impacts of traffic to and from the nuclear power plant along the R330,” said Andre Fouche a resident, who lives near the Kromme bridge. Summing up the feelings of many residents he went on to cheering applause: “The noise will be unbelievable across the bridge. What about people’s right to peace and quiet? For nine years this will continue. What is it going to do to the value of our properties? The other proposed sites don’t have houses like ours.”

Peter Bosman then added that 950 vehicles a day on the R330 will make the road far more dangerous for people who use it, while John Hammond said: “Eskom is ignoring the social impact on the lives of children, people and on the houses.” Sea Vista residents present at the meeting voiced concerns that school children crossed that road and travelled in buses along it… the increased traffic envisaged would be hazardous to their lives.

And in a shock announcement at the meeting Eskom representatives and consultants Acer said there were no plans to widen the R330 or to build a new bridge across the Kromme, or at van Stadens (or anywhere else) to better accommodate the huge construction vehicles, pantechnicons and trailers expected to traverse the distance from Port Elizabeth. This was because they believed the current roads and bridges could withstand the heavy traffic loads.

There were audible gasps of dismay and outrage by attendees at the meeting and many publicly voiced their anticipation of a ‘nightmare’ of congested traffic for miles and long delays for nine years. Eskom officials present made light of these fears by saying construction vehicles would not traverse the road during peak traffic times.

Greg Christie for the Squid Industry criticised Acer’s Report for ignoring the importance of the squid industry to the region and almost nullifying the negative effects of dumping enormous truckloads of excavated sand continually on the ocean floor 5 kms offshore and by the heating of sea water during the construction phase. Christie maintained that Acer’s Marine Ecology and Economic Reports were flawed. He hoped that a forthcoming meeting between Acer’s marine specialists and members of the squid industry in Cape Town would change Acer’s current stance.

There were loud guffaws several times during the meeting that went on for more than five hours. These were when people were incredulous at certain statements by Acer or Eskom officials. For instance, Acer announced in its report that the route to Thyspunt would not go through the centre of Humansdorp. Instead the route would go around the town. But it was stated at the meeting that the road to be used instead of Humansdorp’s Main Street would be Saffrey Street!

Turning back to the social impacts the construction of the nuclear plant would have on St Francis, Hilton Thorpe of the Kromme Trust said these impacts had been played down by Acer. He forecast more informal settlements at Sea Vista, with countless more people looking for employment, when there was already insufficient work and high unemployment in the area. This influx would not only affect the lives of current Sea Vista residents but the lives too of the retired, working and business people in the area.

In its report on social impacts Acer says: “At a social level, the most significant potential negative impact that may result from the power station relates to accommodation for temporary workers during the construction period. The possibility of an influx of job seekers is also a reality. Temporary workers, combined with the influx of unsuccessful job seekers, can have a number of social impacts.

“This includes, inter alia, conflict with local communities, apparent competition for employment and the possibility of increasing risks of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies resulting in fatherless children. A potential increase in criminal and other illegal activities cannot be excluded.”

At the meeting Eskom officials revealed that 7700 jobs would become available at peak construction time but only 25% of the jobs would be for locals (labourers from the whole of the Kouga area, including St Francis).

Residents asked Acer personnel repeatedly if it was going to persist with the nuclear site at Thyspunt despite their objections and the bad effects it would have on their lives. Consultants, in turn, continually evaded these questions by pointing out there was a comment period and these comments would be taken into consideration.

Acer was also charged with ignoring the wishes of the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA). The site is of major importance in terms of the cultural heritage of the Khoisan people. SAHRA has refused to approve the relevant Heritage Impact Scoping Report.

In its report Acer says that Thyspunt is considered to be the least preferred site from a heritage perspective. It notes: “Mitigation of impacts on heritage sites is a priority at Thyspunt. The following conditions need to be in place: “A suitably qualified and experienced heritage impact assessment practitioner must conduct excavations in the central portion of the power station footprint and along the routes of the proposed access roads in order to confirm the significance of the heritage resources in the areas where sampling was not possible during the initial investigation.

“Pending SAHRA’s acceptance of the findings of these excavations, a comprehensive heritage mitigation plan must be drawn up by the appointed heritage specialist. Eskom must make the necessary resources available to give effect to this mitigation plan.

“Steps that may need to be taken include the development of the necessary resources in South Africa through support for academic institutions, or the importation of heritage excavation personnel if the resources are not available in South Africa. On-site curation and interpretation facilities need to be provided and sufficient resources need to be provided for the ongoing maintenance of these facilities throughout the operational life span of the proposed power station.]

 “Excavation in an area needs to be complete prior to the commencement of clearing for construction purposes.”’

 ‘War Chest’

Meanwhile in a statement issued shortly before the meeting the Thyspunt Alliance had also charged Acer with ignoring comments made by a number of interested and affected parties. “We plan to do our best to stop this project at this, the EIA stage. However, we need to face up to the fact that the only way in which Eskom can be stopped may be in Court. For this we have put together a ‘War Chest.’

Anyone wishing to donate funds to the war chest are asked to contact Thyspunt Alliance members or the local ratepayers organisations.

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