ST PETERSBURG — The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA’s) Atomexpo conference on the future of nuclear energy‚ held this week in St Petersburg‚ Russia‚ has suggested companies are ready to back nuclear programmes worldwide.
South Africa has been named as a destination where multinationals would like to build new plants and start doing business. The UK is another that has been encouraged to reinvigorate its nuclear industry.
South Africa was publicly announced as a country where Russian state energy group Rosatom‚ French multinational Areva and other companies wanted to invest in nuclear energy equipment and expertise.
But the South African government and organised business have not shown initiative in their responses this week‚ with prominent officials pulling out of the conference and no formal presentations having been made by South Africa.
South Africa is reliant on coal for its power production but it faces infrastructure backlogs.
Energy Minister Dipuo Peters cancelled her appearance in St Petersburg just before the conference began. Eskom CEO Brian Dames also cancelled‚ sending an executive in his place.
The South African Nuclear Energy Corporation was present but did not make a public presentation.
Kirill Komarov‚ deputy director-general of Rosatom‚ said on Thursday that the Russian state energy agency was waiting for South Africa to put out tenders for a nuclear programme.
"I think we have made it very clear that we are interested in beginning a relationship with South Africa that sees an overhaul of their nuclear industry. We are now waiting for a decision from the South African government as to how to move forward‚” he said.
South Africa’s Department of Energy said earlier this year that nuclear energy was "a must” for South Africa but the government is yet to announce a firm position in the form of a tender for a programme.
Critics have argued South Africa has to change its energy mix‚ which is primarily coal-based‚ to keep the lights on. The National Development Plan reiterates that nuclear energy and hydraulic fracturing‚ or fracking‚ for shale gas are two sources that should be considered.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said the sentiment that nuclear energy was extremely dangerous and should be condemned‚ had been set aside as a populist notion held by people who were uninformed about the truths of nuclear energy.
"We recognise that we have to make safety the most important thing at any nuclear power station. However‚ look how the Japanese and their colleagues have managed to control the effects of Fukushima‚” he said‚ referring to the nuclear disaster resulting from an earthquake and tsunami in 2011.
"Look at how the plant there was so well designed that its failure’s effects were limited‚” Mr Rogozin said.
Since the 2011 disaster at the nuclear plant in Fukushima‚ Japan‚ the IAEA and other organisations have taken steps to show that nuclear energy use is safe and generally efficient‚ regardless of its rising costs.
Research by the World Health Organisation (WHO) has shown that since 2011‚ no one exposed to radiation in the area has died. The WHO found that‚ at most‚ the chances of contracting cancer were raised by 1% for those exposed to radiation during the meltdown. The only deaths were caused by the earthquake itself.
IAEA director-general Yukiya Amano confirmed on Thursday that a vessel under armed guard and loaded with reprocessed nuclear fuel from France had arrived at a Japanese port‚ the first such shipment to arrive since the Fukushima disaster‚ with more to follow.
AFP reported that the cargo included mixed oxide‚ which is a blend of plutonium and uranium. It was offloaded at the Takahama nuclear plant on the western coast of central Japan.
The fuel left the French port of Cherbourg in mid-April‚ Areva said.
The vessel was specially fitted to be able to transport nuclear material and was escorted by an armed sister ship.
Protesters greeted the ship.
Mr Amano said utilities were lobbying to restart their atomic reactors. "I believe reactors at the Takahama plant are set to be restarted. Japan remains committed to the responsible use of nuclear energy‚” he said.
Japan has few energy resources of its own and relied on nuclear power for nearly one-third of its domestic electricity needs until the meltdowns at Fukushima.
All but two of Japan’s 50 nuclear reactors are offline. They face routine safety checks but have not proven to meet every new safety standard. © BDlive 2013