YESTERDAY’S near meltdown at Koeberg, South Africa’s only commercial nuclear power station resulted in a “scramble” by employees to shut the reactor down. The ensuing blackout plunged Cape Town’s flatland into darkness and left thousands stranded. Traffic jams and frozen lifts were reported all over the city.
The automatic shutdown caused after a warning system reported a fault inside the reactor was “no cause for concern” according to officials, and was the second time in two years that the reactor had to be shut down.In scenes reminiscent of Three Mile Island, (depicted in movies like The CHINA SYNDROME), the reactor core begun to flare out of control, before tracking rods could be inserted.
Luckily the situation rectified itself after the safety mechanism scrambled allowing a general shutdown of reactor activity. Failure of such mechanisms have been blamed for both the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl disasters. At Chernobyl, engineers running an experiment were unable to shut down the reactor, and the resulting meltdown breached containment areas resulting in the devastation of the surrounding environment,loss of life of hundreds of thousands and an airborne plume of radiactive dust that reached as far as Iceland.
There are currently no workable plans for evacuating Cape Town in the event of a containment breach at Koeberg. Although the Koeberg reactor has already reached the end of its productive cycle,the power station has been allowed by authorities to run for nearly a decade past its specifications. The blackout thus represents both a material and engineering breakdown. Decommissioning of such a plant is however considered too costly, as the core will be “hot” for millenia. The half-life of plutonium for example, is measured in thousands of years — the time it takes for such material to become half as reactive.
Despite warnings from interest groups such as Koeberg Alert and Earthlife Africa, Eskom continues to pursue nuclear energy as a “viable alternative to coal and gas”, and has done virtually nothing to implement renewable and environmentally safe energy. With insurance at a premium, the company is unlikely to get backing from any financial institution for such a project without help from central government. Now is the time to sue Cape Town local government for protection from the threat of future disaster, not after such a disaster has happened!