Thyspunt still the preferred site for nuclear-1 – latest EIA Report

Photo of Thyspunt , taken on the proposed nuclear site itself, by Bev Mortimer

Photo of Thyspunt , taken on the proposed nuclear site itself, by Bev Mortimer

Thyspunt is still the preferred site to build a nuclear power station This is the conclusion in the copious 702-page Revised Draft EIA Report Version 2 for the Eskom Nuclear Power Station and Associated Infrastructure (Nuclear-1).

In the Report it states more than once that not only is Thyspunt the preferred site but that it is recommended it be authorised by the DEA (with conditions) for Nuclear-1. “Eskom must ensure that the required mitigation measures are effectively implemented.  It is important to remember that none of the specialist assessments identified fatal flaws at any of the remaining sites, and both the proposed sites remain viable sites for nuclear power station development, either for Nuclear 1, which is now proposed, or for some future power station. 

“As such, the site selected is the one that provides the greatest immediate return from an electricity supply point of view.  Thyspunt will strengthen the eastern grid and help create a generation centre along the east coast. e spills are an unfortunate reality of large construction sites.”

The long awaited Report which the public has anxiously being awaiting since 2011 has finally been released to the public this month. The public is wanting to know  which site is chosen for a nuclear power plant, so that it can plan accordingly.

Everyone is urged to read the Report.  St Francis Chronicle has highlighted some salient points above and below – as it is impractical to place the whole Report here.  But for the interest of our readers who are unable to read the entire report, but who wish to know what it contains and for those who especially asked us to provide some insight, these selected and important points will provide at least a very broad overview.

If you wish to read the entire Report, download it here: http://projects.gibb.co.za/en-us/projects/eskomnuclear1reviseddrafteirversion2

At the outset it needs to be said that Kouga residents (the closest to the proposed site) are divided over whether there should be a nuclear power station or not. Most of the local  Kouga business people are waiting eagerly for it to happen as are the large numbers  Kouga unemployed , who wish and need to secure jobs. These protagonists, believe the whole of Kouga will benefit as the economy of the entire region will improve.

Antagonists, not anti nuclear, do not wish a nuclear site to be built in Kouga, believing it should be constructed in an area like Coega instead, while anti-nuclear camps raise the standard health, pollution and safety arguments.

But whatever their beliefs or convictions, all residents are urged to attend the public meetings so they can hear all sides of the project (the pros and the cons) and can listen to experts giving their viewpoints. The public will be able to ask questions at question time on this controversial topic of a possible nuclear site at Thyspunt. (In St Francis the meeting is at 6 pm at St Francis Links Golf Estate on 20 October; and on 21 October at 6 pm at the Sea Vista Community Hall. The full list of meetings, is at the end, below).

First off and on first perusal, the Report is far more comprehensive than before and appears to have dealt with the thorny issues raised by commentators in previous reports and at meetings. The latest Report has even corrected some of the earlier Reports’ mistakes, such as the direction of the wind. But like most company documents, the language is fairly long-winded and there is quite a lot of duplication as well.

The Report also deals with apparent negative issues and mentions the benefits of the Thyspunt and Duynefontein sites. It says that while Bantamsklip remains a viable site for a nuclear power station, it is the least favourable of the three sites for Nuclear 1.  “Given that the detailed assessment of Bantamsklip has already been presented in the public domain as part of earlier drafts of the Environmental Impact Report, the decision has been made to exclude Bantamsklip from further consideration in this EIR in the interests of brevity.”

Other highlights include the following paragraphs containing statements and observations:

“Spoil Disposal at sea altering surf breaks

“This potential cause is specific to the Thyspunt site and Jeffery’s Bay as a popular surfing destination.  The concern is that offshore spoil disposal would change underwater topography with a resultant change in the surf break (a surf break is a permanent or semi-permanent obstruction such as a coral reef, rock, shoal, or headland that causes a wave to break, forming a wave that can be surfed). Hydrodynamic modelling was used to predict the movement of the dumped spoil based on reliable ocean current data.

“The modelling indicates that the spoil will not move as far as Jeffrey’s Bay (a distance of 18 km from Cape St. Francis) and would at most; result in increased sediment thickness in the bay between Seal Point and Cape St Francis.  This outcome is based on deep offshore spoil disposal as recommended earlier in this report. It is therefore considered highly unlikely that spoil disposal would change the Jeffery’s Bay surf breaks and similarly highly unlikely that livelihoods based on the surfing appeal of Jeffery’s Bay would be impaired.” 

“Reducing Chokka Squid Populations

Concerns have been raised about the possible impacts on chokka squid at the Thyspunt site. In 2005 the Eastern Cape squid industry employed 2,300 fishing crew, 150 management staff and 1,500 factory staff with the industry generating approximately R 400 million in foreign exchange per annum. Fishing has significant linkages in terms of local employment and procurement of provisions, the effects of a potential decline in catches for labour and supplies would be serious. The industry at Port St. Francis consists largely of small, medium and micro enterprises which depend entirely on squid fishing and would not be able to divert their vessels so as to capture trawl and other (demersal or pelagic) revenue streams. The concerns about impacts on the squid industry as a result of the proposed NPS stem from the planned disposal of spoil at sea, the discharge of cooling water and brine and the exclusion area. 

“Over the last 20 years the annual catch has ranged between 2 000 – 14 000 tons in the Eastern Cape with an average of 7 000 tons. Port St. Francis-based companies average about 1 000 tons per annum with squid being the most viable fishing industry in the area and almost the entire catch being exported to the EU. Information supplied by the South African Squid Management Industrial Association (SASMIA), indicates that between 1999 and 2005 an average of 33,2% of the total annual Eastern Cape catch originated in the area between 10 nautical miles (18,52 km) east and west of the proposed Thyspunt nuclear power station site. The required security exclusion zone of 1 km width would potentially account for as much as 1.8% of the total average catch of 7 000 tons per annum (some 127 tons per annum).  The concentration of squid, however, shifts according to month and weather conditions, and the catch fluctuates from year to year depending on sea temperature and wind conditions.

“As detailed in section 10.15.3 the brine will be effectively diluted by the cooling water before being discharged in to the marine environment but as has been explained in section 10.15.3 there will be pockets of water that is relatively warmer than the surrounding water at the discharge point of the effluent pipeline.  The specialist assessment indicated that the chokka squid would simply avoid areas where the water temperature is elevated above their thermal tolerance range. The disposal of spoil at the Thyspunt site will have an impact on the chokka squid breeding grounds through changing the benthic habitat and in particular egg beds but this impact will be small and certainly well less than 1% of the area over which this species spawns, meaning a very limited impact on the overall squid stock. The offshore disposal of spoil would result in turbidity which would drive adults away from the areas of turbidity, but this would be a temporary effect occurring only during the construction phase and with a recovery once the offsite spoil disposal ceases. On this basis a reduction in livelihoods as a result of reduced catches of squid as a result of the construction and operation of the proposed NPS is considered to be unlikely but possible. 

“Increased Business Opportunities

The construction and operation of the proposed NPS will create a significant number of business opportunities for local companies / service providers and small medium micro enterprises (SMMEs). The utilisation of local suppliers and service providers can also be promoted through local procurement and pro-active targeting of local business development to ensure that local economic development is maximised. Therefore the likelihood that increased business opportunities will positively affect the livelihoods of the surrounding community is highly likely”.

“New Job Opportunities

 “The construction and operation of the proposed NPS will create a significant number of business opportunities for local companies / service providers and small medium micro enterprises (SMMEs). The utilisation of local suppliers and service providers can also be promoted through local procurement and pro-active targeting of local business development to ensure that local economic development is maximised. Therefore the likelihood that increased business opportunities will positively affect the livelihoods of the surrounding community is highly likely.

“The majority of the population receives an income lower than R 76 800 per year. The largest portion of the population receives an income between R 9 601 and R 38 400, the second largest between R 4 801 and R 9 600 and the third has no income. A larger group of the population receives an income of R 153 601 to R 307 200. This could be attributed to the high income groups residing at locations such as Cape S. Francis and St. Francis Bay.  42% of the population is employed and 58% of the population is either unemployed or not economically active. The employed population is evenly spread amongst all wards. The non-economically active portion of the population is also evenly spread amongst all wards.”

Other possible impacts in the ‘simplified’ chapter or overview in the Report include:

“Informal Settlements due to Nuclear-1

The influx of job seekers to the site during the construction phase, including those from areas outside the “local” area, has the potential to result in the establishment of informal settlements which will enter the area with the hope of securing employment. When they do not secure employment, the potential exists that they will contribute to problems experienced with informal settlement, pressure on existing resources, services and infrastructure. 

Due to Eskom’s procurement and supply management policy, 25 % of the labour force will be local residents (as far as possible).  Therefore considering the total number of jobs that will be offered to local residents, the likelihood that informal settlements will be established and result in irritation of surrounding residents is likely.

“Additional Vehicular Traffic

Due to the construction phase, additional vehicular traffic will be experienced.  Based on the various road upgrades and travel times proposed for the Thyspunt site this cause is likely to contribute significantly to irritation levels of the surrounding community.”

Highlights from the Strategic overview…

“The proposed NPS was planned for Thyspunt for at least since the 1980’s, so people moving into the area would have known that a NPS was always a possibility at Thyspunt although the time scale for development may not have been clear. It simply cannot be argued that the idea of an NPS at Thyspunt was a ‘bolt from the blue’ and completely unexpected as Eskom has owned the property before the 1980s and ownership has ensured no development in the direct and indirect footprints (buffer zone) of the Thyspunt site.  The argument that the NPS cannot now go ahead simply because of the residential properties that have developed in the interim on the doorstep of the proposed site is tenuous and difficult to support.

“The sheer size of the project and its associated footprint which extends well beyond the direct proposed site in the form of roads, other infrastructure and large-scale transmission lines means potentially significant transformation of land and habitat.

“The Thyspunt site is biologically more diverse than the Duynefontein site and there are more threatened species of fauna at Thyspunt and the Langefonteinvlei wetland is of special importance.  As such the site proposed for the NPS at Thyspunt is more sensitive than that at Duynefontein and decision-makers are encouraged to recognize this sensitivity in their decision-making deliberations. 

“The presence of wetlands (at both sites), with an especially sensitive wetland at Thyspunt, presents the risk of the functionality of these wetlands being reduced through sedimentation or hydrocarbon or chemical contamination of stormwater.  The planned layout of the sites including the judicious placing of stockpiles, hydrocarbon and chemical spill prevention and countermeasures, and that fact that there are not direct flow lines to the wetlands means that the loss of wetlands or the reduced functioning of wetlands is highly unlikely.   

“At the same time the large buffer areas required for the NPS again provide an opportunity to continue to protect this important ecological area.  The planned layout of the power station has been modified to ensure that the key sensitivities in the site area such as the dune headland system and the Langefonteinvlei wetland are avoided. The most significant disruption will occur during the construction phase and thereafter the operations phase would see far lower level of impact on the natural environment.

“The transmission lines that are required to evacuate the power pose a number of threats to the environment including direct land transformation, visual impact, and bird mortalities through collision or electrocution.  In general terms collision risk tends to be higher on the transmission lines with lower risk of electrocution because of the distance between the conductors, transmission lines do have a negative impact on the environment and this must be recognized in the decision-making process, and no power station in the world has yet been built without large-scale transmission lines to evacuate the power. 

“Cumulatively the footprint of electricity generation and transmission is large. than is the case with distribution lines.

“There will be a greater return in benefits at Thyspunt.  The construction project will result in a substantial injection of spending and employment opportunities and a resultant stimulation of the local economy. 

“Many stakeholders would argue that they do not want such economic development in the area and that it would actually further spoil the area but the reality is that many other stakeholders in the area live in poverty or at least very low levels of income with few if any prospects for changing their lot.  The proposed NPS will introduce not just direct economic benefits but large-scale knock on benefits as well.  It would be hard to see that the proposed project would not result in a general level of improvement in human well-being for a large percentage of potentially affected stakeholders pretty much all in lower income brackets.

“Public sentiment is one of deep concern regarding potential adverse health effects of the proposed NPS both at the level of a large scale accidental release with immediate possible fatalities or serious injuries or a long term serious illness risk. Were either or both to manifest the consequences would be highly severe and any risk of public mortality or morbidity has to be recognized as very significant and has been presented as such in the assessment. 

“What makes the risk tolerable is the very low likelihood of it ever occurring due to the defence in depth principles that underpin the design and operation of a modern NPS.  These defence in depth principles see high levels of redundancy in control and cooling systems supplemented by multiple levels of containment. 

“The defence in depth principles serve to ensure that radioactivity releases from the power station are kept well below background levels of radioactivity under all circumstances and as such mortality or morbidity as a result of radioactive exposure is highly unlikely. 

“Non-radiological exposure risks of mortality and morbidly on the NPS would derive from motor vehicle accidents, potential increases in HIV/AIDS due to the presence of a large labour force and increased opportunities crime that could be violent. These various effects are inevitably associated with large-scale construction projects and the extent of the effects similarly constrained to the broader project area.

“Prevailing human health could also be improved by the additional infrastructure that would be established that would see additional medical facilities and improved water supply and sanitation being brought about by the project.  To some extent this additional infrastructure would simply offset the additional pressure on such services brought about by an increased number of people but there would be definite carry over benefits for people who have always lived in the area.

“Concerns have also been raised about the marine environment at both possible sites as a result of interaction of the project with the marine environment through water abstraction for cooling and drinking water purposes and discharge of heated cooling water and brine.  Construction activities also pose the risk of contaminated storm water being discharged from the site into the marine environment and excess spoil is also planned to be disposed in the sea.

 “In all cases there will be controls that limit the risk of significant change to the marine environment.  These controls include very specific operational  parameters for the disposal of the spoil at sea, dilution of the brine form the desalination plants using cooling water and the use of a diffuser to limit the impact of heated water pulses into the marine environment.

“A reduction in the quality of the marine environment is deemed to be a low residual risk. Strict controls will be required not just to reduce the risk of spills but to ensure that there is rapid clean-up of the spill should it occur so as to prevent downstream risks of contamination.  Large-scale spillages should be prevented by the proposed mitigation but it is concluded that both sites are environmentally acceptable for a nuclear power station.”

Executive Summary highlights

“The legislative requirements for nuclear facilities in South Africa are extensive. In the case of a nuclear power station, two key authorisations are needed from two regulatory authorities namely the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA1) and the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR). These authorisations, and a number of others, are needed prior to the commencement of construction activities. 

“Environmental authorisation in terms of the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA, Act No. 107 of 1998) and the EIA Regulations (2006) is required before the proposed nuclear power station can be built, as it involves ‘listed activities’ (i.e. activities which may have potentially detrimental impacts on the environment), the primary ones being: “  

  • The construction of facilities or infrastructure, including associated structures or infrastructure, for the generation of electricity where the energy generation is greater than 20 Megawatts and the facility exceeds an area of one hectare; and
  • The construction of facilities or infrastructure, including associated structures or infrastructure, for nuclear reaction including the production, enrichment, processing, reprocessing storage or disposal of nuclear fuels, radioactive products and waste.”

Roles of Government Authorities

“In addition to the environmental authorisation in terms of NEMA, the proposed nuclear power station requires another key authorisation from the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) prior to construction. Furthermore, many other authorisations from various departments, such as the Department of Mineral Resources, the Department of Water Affairs (DWA), the Department of Environment Affairs (DEA), provincial environmental authorities and the South African Heritage Resources Agency, as well as other regulatory authorities such as the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) are required prior to construction.

“The National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) is mandated by the National Nuclear Regulator Act (NNRA, Act No. 47 of 1999) to provide for the protection of persons, property and the environment against nuclear damage through the establishment of safety standards and regulatory practices. In terms of Section 20 of the NNRA, no person may site, construct, operate, decontaminate or decommission a nuclear installation, except under the authority of a nuclear installation licence.  Section 21 of the NNRA makes provision for a person wishing to engage in any of these activities to apply to the Chief Executive Officer of the NNR for such a licence.

 “However, in terms of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 (Act No. 108 of 1996) (“the Constitution”) and the NEMA, the DEA has a responsibility for decision-making regarding the potential impacts of the power station on the environment, even though these impacts are likely to include those relating to certain aspects of the radiological hazards associated with the facility. 

“An assessment of radiological impacts of the proposed power station is included in the current version of the EIR. Although this approach of including an assessment of the radiological impacts of the proposed power station results in a risk of duplication between the EIA and the NNR licensing processes, the risk to the EIA in terms of possible appeals, based on the exclusion of substantive issues such as health issues from the EIA process, is regarded as greater than the risk of duplication. The current version of the EIR therefore departs substantially from the approach in the previous versions of the EIR in terms of the consideration of radiological impacts.” 

List of public meetings:

list of public meetings on nuclear

(Broad overview put together by Bev Mortimer)

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