AfriForum & Andrew Kenny — should the nuclear industry be pizza-boxed?

NUCLEAR pundits had a ball this weekend. While Andrew Kenny was trolling female environmentalists such as Greta Thunberg, behaving much the same way as his namesake Andrew Tate, who is currently incarcerated in Romania for running a ‘lover-boy’ sex scam, AfriForum announced they were starting an energy company to resurrect the failed PBMR programme.

PBMR was cancelled due to problems with ‘pebble-to-pebble’ scratching resulting in graphite dust. The dust is considered radioactive ‘due to absorption of radioactive fission products released, namely cesium, iodine, and silver’ but more likely also laced with radionuclides which arise much in the same way as similar problems at Koeberg, where Tritium or Elemental Tritium is thought to be the agent responsible for turning the plants nickel parts into radioactive Cobalt-58. You can read my previous report here.

Instability of the graphite-coated uranium pebbles is thus the main reason for the project’s cancellation, and it would cost billions more than the original R10 billion sunk development, to solve the problem, which was referred to by an independent report, submitted during the nuclear hearings sponsored by the Dept of Environmental Affairs. There is also no containment structure in the actual design, “perhaps to make the design economically feasible,” according to Anthony Frogget, a researcher at Heinrich Boll Stiftung. 

Crumbling White Privilege

Crumbling uranium pebbles were the least of Kenny’s worries this weekend. In his predatory opinion piece published by Daily Friend, the ageing promoter of nuclear power, who calls himself “a writer, an engineer and a classical liberal”, refers to the Swede, as “dreadful Greta Thunberg” and “the green mascot of wealth and privilege”.

The obviously privileged, creepy white guy openly salivates over his subject matter, claiming “she is being used by the rich green establishment in the same way that photogenic young girls were used by Hollywood talent scouts to become child movie stars.” Railing laboriously against “her privilege, arrogance, and ignorance” which he finds “quite repellent”, Kenny nevertheless states: “a friend tells me I should regard her as a victim.”

Kenny could well discover his true identity as a celebrity cheese-head, just like Andrew Tate, the recipient of a pizza box raid by the child porn and human trafficking brigade?

I can’t help but wonder what other salubrious material Kenny has stashed on his hard-drive, since a nuclear-porn pundit and an organisation geared towards the rights of ‘Afrikaners’, would make for strange bed-mates indeed? Need I mention the fate of Jeremy Clarkson, another curmudgeon censured for hate?

Kenny then proceeds to trot out absolute lies, claiming  “nobody was harmed by the radiation” caused by Fukishima. This is even one less person than that other fatuous fart of an anti-environmentalist Ivo Vegter would admit, you can read my earlier response to Vegter pointing out a recapitulation of a 2013 report ‘stating a radiation-induced increase in thyroid cancer incidence’ amongst the public where the authors reported ‘a 50-fold (95% CI: 25, 90) excess in Fukushima Prefecture.’

Twitter debate

This weekend also saw an online twitter debate with podcaster Hügo Krüger, who supports AfriForum’s PBMR project, but nevertheless accepts the Linear No-Threshold (LT) model of radiation exposure is the prevailing medical model. He appears to claim LNT should be replaced by the Linear Threshold model (LT). Is he aware the nuclear industry has a habit of altering radiation exposure limits to suit themselves?

Krüger, offered up some trenchant criticism of LNT, but was unable to respond to my questions regarding the ‘bioaccumulation of radionuclides up the food chain’. In particular the problem that most fission products released into the environment tend to accumulate via meat, dairy, shellfish and wheat, arriving in human tissue, organs & bones. Radioiodine collects in the thyroid gland, whereas radium & strontium accumulate chiefly in bones.

All are beta emitters and consequently hazardous to human health.

Afterword: I would be in remiss if I failed to mention Peter Becker axing from the National Nuclear Regulator by Gwede Mantashe, was ruled unconstitutional by the High Court. Readers may know Becker as the coordinator for the Koeberg Alert Alliance, an organisation concerned with nuclear safety.

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SA Astonishing failure to plan transition away from ICE

EVEN if there was no war in Ukraine and no embargo against Russian oil and gas, South Africa would find itself in a pretty pickle, forced to import fuel directly. It is not just our strategic fuel reserves which have been plundered, but our capacity to refine crude in the face of a global transition away from the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) which stands at the heart of massive increases at the pump.

Attempts by government to restructure and partially deregulate the fuel price by lowering or dropping levies are merely band-aids on a serious problem, whose root cause is the pivot away from fossil fuels towards Electric Vehicles (EVs).

The blame needs to be placed squarely on both the Minister of Energy and Resources, Gwede Mantashe and Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula whose porfolio’s intersect.

It seems strange that a former spokesperson to the Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation, Yonela Diko should be generating after the fact opinion pieces pointing out that ‘depending solely on fuel imports threatens energy security”, as if this strategic reality were not already at the heart of our energy policies, and especially given our countries past experience with sanctions?

Diko’s demonstration of the lack of refining capacity caused by the unwillingness of energy companies to invest in upgrades is only part of the problem in dealing with the harsh reality that the entire world is transitioning away from fossil fuels, towards electric vehicles:

He writes: “The latest closure of Shell and BP-owned Refinery Sapref in Durban which had a peak capacity of 180 000 bbl/d, a whooping 35% crude refining capacity of the entire country, becomes the latest blow in the countries refining capacity leaving the country with only one option, to import.”

“We are now left with the only worlds coal-based synthetic fuels refinery, Sasol’s Natref, which has a peak day production of a 150 000 bbl/d, which is not enough to carry the entire country and replace the lost refinery capacity. We also have the ever so incapacitated PetroSA which is supposed to be a gas-to-liquid refinery in Mossel Bay which never seems to find any gas.”

Instead of defending the capacity already in place and coming up with a mitigation plan, we have seen a veritable, wild goose chase. Readers may remember the debacle involving Shell and Mantashe’s search for oil and gas off our coast? The entire energy strategy, which found its origin in Jacob Zuma’s Operation Phakisa, has been to pivot towards ‘prospecting’ (read: Adventurism) and the parceling out of future ocean rights to oil companies, none of which have panned out. It is only Namibia which has benefited.

As the saying goes, a bird in the hand is always better than two in the bush.

In some respects the environmental justice movement is also caught offside with its mantra of “Just Transition Away from Coal”, instead of a ‘Just Transition Towards Renewables in Transportation’.

Although there are tentative plans involving so-called “Green Hydrogen” impacting upon heavy industry and mining vehicles, the government has failed to deliver any tangible incentives to transition towards Electric Vehicles. No rebates, no tax incentives, no assistance to an industry which desperately needs to be retooled.

Petrol attendants and ‘pump jockeys’ may just go the way of the lift attendant, elevator operator and ice-hauler, who no longer haul ice to the proverbial icebox. All categories of work long considered redundant. Unless SADC is able to co-operate in finding a solution, the transition will come-about via accident if not force majeur, and not according to any particular plan.

Unlike the USA and Europe, South Africa faces a hybrid future, where bio-diesel, methane, hydrogen fuel cells and electric all play a role. One would expect the Minister of Transport to have announced plans for moving South Africa’s massive fleet of Quantum minibuses towards sustainable bio-diesel or methane. Ditto the trucking industry.

To date there are no plans to my knowledge to assist in the retrofit of private and public transport.Talk about the introduction of Chinese-produced, electric-powered ‘Bullet Trains’ seems to be just empty talk, as consumers are forced to pore fuel at the pump.


Tritium found in groundwater outside Koeberg

  • Isotope main suspect behind 2010 Cobalt-58 scare
  • Plant should be decommissioned says Koeberg Alert
  • There is no known threshold beyond which radiation is considered safe

INFORMATION released by environmental organisation Koeberg Alert Alliance (KAA), point to ongoing reactor design problems associated with normal operations at the plant. In particular the production of elemental Tritium (3H) and tritiated water (3H2O) during the course of nuclear fission. The organisation has previously drawn attention to routine Tritium releases and the resulting contamination of borehole water and the water table surrounding Koeberg, in its submissions on the environmental impact of a previous project known as Nuclear 1 — is now concerned about further issues which have emerged from an informal forensic study of the discharge.

“Tritium levels of <3 TU are the “norm” at the Koeberg site but elevated levels of 4.8, 5.5 and 42 TU have been recorded in three boreholes within 50 m of the plant buildings”, suggests the initial report by SRK Consulting, which was conducted over a decade ago in 2010 and is still used by KAA as a baseline requiring further research.

The SRK report illustrates how widespread the Tritium issue has become.

 “These levels are the result of known releases of tritiated steam and condensate and the pathways are as per the original design of the plant and are not due to uncontrolled releases or leaks,” claim SRK who concluded at the time: “The presence of tritium in groundwater at these levels does not pose a risk to people or the environment”.

The report however failed to explain a contamination incident inside the plant affecting 91 workers at the time the report was drafted, and in all likelihood the result of Tritium. The claim of zero health impact is also disputed by KAA.

According to the Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa (NIASA) “The greatest source of radioactivity in the reactor coolant circuit is, however, irradiation of the coolant itself. Neutron bombardment of nitrogen dissolved in the water gives rise to carbon-14. Moreover, irradiation of boron dissolved in the coolant water creates hydrogen-3, i.e. tritium, the radioactive isotope of hydrogen.”

“Radioisotopes such as cobalt-58, cobalt-60 and silver-110m arise as a result of wear or corrosion of reactor components. They become radioactive due to neutron bombardment as they circulate through the reactor with the primary circuit cooling water.”

Both Tritium and Tritiated Water are sources of beta particle radiation. It is suspected that elemental Tritium is the more likely culprit behind the production of Cobalt-58 dust affecting the workers, who would not ordinarily come into contact with the primary coolant.

At the time Eskom spokeswoman Karen de Villiers claimed the exposures to radiation caused by exposure to the dust particles were low, “about 0.5 percent of the annually allowed exposure limit.”

Co-58 has a half-life of 70.86 days, which is the ‘approximate time required for a quantity to reduce to half of its initial value’. The substance is a source of beta and gamma radiation. It would thus take 70 days to become half as radioactive, another 70 days to become a quarter and so on, and is thus radioactive for months.

Elemental Tritium is able to diffuse through metals, particularly in the presence of heat, and is a direct consequence of fission, where production of Tritium occurs in about “one atom per 10,000 fissions” as a direct consequence of the fission process. Tritiated Water (3H2O) is the result of neutron bombardment of water. Tritium has a half-life of 12 years, and a decay chain to Helium-3 (3H).

Although not considered chemically toxic, it is nevertheless a source of radiation, and impacts upon the longevity of the plant, which is nearing its design limits and is due for decommissioning in 2024.

With 2 neutrons and one proton, Tritium loses a neutron during the decay process creating beta particles which then interact with nickel parts inside the plant. Nickel, since it has 30 neutrons, loses a proton and gains a neutron to become radioactive Cobalt-58, which itself experiences its own decay chain.

This is the prevailing explanation for the 2010 contamination incident.

Since the Linear No-Threshold (LNT) model of radiation exposure states there is ‘no threshold beyond which radiation should be considered safe’, KAA consequently disputes the baseline findings of SRK Consulting, and thus the drafters of the initial report commissioned by the Pebble-bed Modular Reactor Company, to determine possible impact of the demonstration unit Koeberg.

LNT is a dose-response model used to estimate stochastic health effects such as radiation-induced cancer, genetic mutations and teratogenic effects on the human body due to exposure to ionizing radiation.

The model “statistically extrapolates effects of radiation from very high doses (where they are observable) into very low doses, where no biological effects are observed” and is disputed by members of the Nuclear Industry.

The LNT model is nevertheless the foundation of a “generally-accepted postulate that all exposure to ionizing radiation is harmful, regardless of how low the dose is, and that the effect is cumulative over lifetime.”

The National Nuclear Regulator currently deems anyone who accepts the LNT model, to be ‘opponents of nuclear power’, and thus Peter Becker was recently suspended from his position on the regulator as a civil society representative by Minister Gwede Mantashe.

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Climate Justice: Andile Mlambo vs John Kane-Berman

TWO environment pieces illustrate diametrically opposed views in SA: “We are experiencing a climate renaissance in my community, Tembisa, evident by the renewed interest — from the youth, the middle aged and the elderly — in climate issues” writes Andile Mlambo. Meanwhile John Kane-Berman has penned an article which claims “”Climate justice” is a nice term for a set of arrogant, economically damaging, cynical, cruel, and inhuman policies.”

So while Mlambo reports local communities are raising “the banner of “climate justice now” in defiance of the grim face of energy institutions that perpetuate the misconception that those who are not sufficiently pale-skinned neither care about nor understand the effects of fossil fuel emissions — on their health, food security and their fertility.”

The Institute for Race Relation’s John Kane Berman has deemed it fit to speak on behalf of disadvantaged communities, those who are already benefiting from climate aid, claiming that “Africans are being fooled by eco-imperialism”, and that “many South African non-governmental organisations and members of the communications media have bought into “net zero”, which is now the dominant ideology of the Western world.”

As a result, he claims, “They habitually oppose mining development. They want to put a stop to oil and gas exploration. And, of course, they want to shut down Eskom’s coal-fired power stations.”

One could not get more disconnected from the scientific reality of climate heating, nor wrong-headed about our country”s own contribution to the problem. South Africa currently produces more GHG than the UK, a country with double the population. The attempt by Kane-Berman to deflect support for a just transition by attacking the massive R131bn aid package which is the hallmark of Cyril Ramaphosa’s participation in the last COP round, is indicative of a myopic right-wing agenda which sees growing opposition to oil and gas as an opportunity to recast themes once associated with the struggle against apartheid.

Thus Kane-Berman drapes himself in the regalia of Pan-Africanism, whilst trotting out denialist sophistry that serve nothing more than to sugar-coat a propaganda piece on behalf of aggressive oil and gas exploration pursued by the likes of Shell, and recently interdicted by poor black communities living along the Wild Coast.

It should come as no surprise that the exact same form of faithwashing of the oil industry has come from the likes of Gwede Mantashe who recently claimed that objecting to the seismic testing was a ‘special type of apartheid”.

The idea that since the West has benefited from fossil fuel exploitation in the past, South Africa should be given an opportunity to do the same moving into the future, and that ‘net zero’ is simply an ‘ideology of the West’, needs to be dispensed with as a dangerous conceit. ‘Net zero’ is the bare minimum required to avoid global temperatures increasing by more than 1.5 degrees celsius. This is via all estimates garnered by climate scientists representing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a body which includes micronations and the rest of the world, not simply “the West”.

One could do a lot better by simply focusing on ‘climate debt’, the debt owed to the world by those who have embarked on fossil fuel exploitation first, instead of advocating for extra time in which to exploit. The past 7 years have been the hottest on record, and the world is about to get a lot hotter.

Both Kane-Berman and Mantashe ignore the reality that what is urgently required is a ‘carbon negative economy’, one which deals with the cumulative impact of GHG emissions over time. In other words, we really should be offsetting our GHG emissions by at least a factor of two to three, if we wish to avoid the catastrophe which is already locked into our own government’s planning around the issue.

It is highly irresponsible and foolish for anyone occupying a position of authority to suggest otherwise.

SEE South Africa’s coastlines are a biodiversity hotspot

Shell Wild Coast : The struggle against whaling has come full circle

SOUTH AFRICA comprehensively banned the practice of whaling in 1979. The campaign to ‘save the whales’ is one of our oldest conservation movements, predating the later environmental justice movement which emerged during the 1980s. This week, Royal Dutch Shell was given the go-ahead to invade traditional whaling habitat on the West Coast during the calving season in order to conduct seismic testing.

The move signals a massive shift in government thinking, from conservation and tourism, sustained littoral zone fishing to outright exploitation of marine resources.

The country is not strapped for cash when it comes to land-based mineral resources, but under former President Zuma, it evolved a plan to carve up the seabed and ocean floor in rights allocations to foreign multinationals.

The so-called “Operation Phakisa” plan produced under the former administration is bereft of reference to sustainable marine fisheries management and climate mitigation. Instead, a document produced by the DTI in 2017, sees oil and gas as the next frontier, alongside ship-building, harbour construction, and logistics operations.

The practice of whaling in South Africa gained momentum at the start of the 19th century and ended in 1975.

“By the mid-1960s, South Africa had depleted its population of fin whales, and subsequently those of sperm and sei whales, and had to resort to hunting the small and less-profitable minke whale. Minke whales continued to be caught and brought to the Durban whaling station from 1968 until 1975.”

The only major whaling population left after the decimation (aside from the Humpback and Minke) was that of the Southern Right Whale. Its population has been steadily falling due to climate change. Numbers measured in 2020 “are the second-lowest in October in the past 32 years, after the extremely low numbers of 2016 (55 pairs)“. 

“The Southern Right Whale is seen along the coastline of South Africa every year between July and December.” The whale has a higher population than its northern counterparts, and is “seen along the coastline of South Africa every year between July and December In fact, there are only a few hundred Northern Right Whales individuals left in existence.”

The whales attract hundreds of thousands of tourists to the so-named ‘Whale Coast’ every year, and thus many people are understandably upset at the prospect of Shell displacing the whale population, whether by seismic testing, exploration or drilling.

The issue however, is not simply that of noise pollution nor its impact upon marine tourism. Although ‘seismic surveys reduce cetacean sightings across a large marine ecosystem” the overall impact of the invasive endeavour on the entire eco-system needs to be taken into account — the very real prospect that we may lose our whales altogether, and along with their habitat, the ecosystem, and that means us.

Alongside the collapse of whale habitat, our fisheries and any hope of a sustainable marine resource.

A review of the potential impacts of marine seismic surveys on fish & invertebrates shows the true extent to which anthropogenic noise in the world’s oceans impacts marine fauna has become a subject of growing concern.

“Available evidence suggests that seismic survey noise may influence the behaviour of cetaceans in a number of ways potentially leading to reduced sighting rates e.g. Long- and short-term displacement …”

The displacement of the Southern Right Whale habitat by Shell’s invasive seismic testing, followed by exploration and potential drilling, demonstrates that the whaling industry that once provided blubber to the lubricants industry is being superseded by the oil and gas industry, and the mammals are seen by our government as a mere hindrance to development.

The result will invariably be extinction.

SEE: Shell’s seismic blasting is a threat to South Africa’s fish stocks and totally out of step with global energy trends

SEE: The huge momentum shift in the story of two environmental campaigns against Shell

Koeberg has a 65 different isotope emissions problem

KOEBERG like many Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR) nuclear plants, produces emissions of radioactive isotopes. The resulting ‘effluent’ is routinely released into the environment where it makes its way into the food chain. Annual allowable emissions known as the ‘Annual Authorised Discharge Quantity’ are all authorised by the Department of Energy. In some instances emissions have included unwanted radionuclides, breaching minimum emissions standards. The department monitors ‘some sixty-five radioisotopes found or expected to be found in Koeberg “effluent”

Tritium, a radioisotope of Hydrogen with a half-life of 12.3 years, is relatively abundant within the plant. According to the Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa (NIASA): “The greatest source of radioactivity in the reactor coolant circuit is, however, irradiation of the coolant itself. Neutron bombardment of nitrogen dissolved in the water gives rise to carbon-14. Moreover, irradiation of boron dissolved in the coolant water creates hydrogen-3, i.e. tritium, the radioactive isotope of hydrogen.”

NIASA boldly claims: “Even if all were discharged at the maximum (AADQ) allowed, and in the impossible event that the critical paths for all the isotopes in the liquid and gaseous effluent irradiate the same local resident, that individual would still receive less than the permitted 0.25 millisievert per year.”

The association further claims “Caesium-137 and sometimes strontium-90 are detected at levels consistent with the background attributable to global nuclear weapons testing largely in the 1960s”.

This contradicts their own findings and studies conducted by independent environmental professionals which have detected long-lived fission products such as the radioisotopes iodine-131 and caesium-137 in plant and sea-life around the installation. Both isotopes do not occur naturally and are produced as a byproduct of nuclear fission. Iodine-131 in particular is a result of fission not weapons testing, and the prevalence of these particles around the plant and not the rest of the country raises questions.

In 2010, 91 workers were contaminated with radioactive Cobalt-58. According to NIASA: “radioisotopes such as cobalt-58, cobalt-60 and silver-110m arise as a result of wear or corrosion of reactor components. They become radioactive due to neutron bombardment as they circulate through the reactor with the primary circuit cooling water.”

These radionuclides are not fission products as such, since the plant was not designed to produce them, and should rather be termed contaminants.

Radionuclides, due to their instability produce radioactivity, resulting in alpha, beta and gamma particle emission. High-energy beta particles disrupt molecules in cells and deposits energy in tissues, causing damage.

The presence of Cobalt radionuclides is particularly concerning since it points to issues which may require the decommissioning of the plant. Cobalt-58 for instance is achieved by irradiation of Nickel, and thus points to the breakdown of stainless steel components within the plant due to increased radiation levels. The decision to extend the life of the plant which was commissioned in 1984 appears to have been made on the basis of a ‘business case’, and not a scope of plant safety issues moving forward.

NIASA explains the effluent and contaminants from the plant : “The radioisotopes in the Koeberg effluent are of two types, fission products and activation products. Traces of uranium (‘tramp’ uranium) may remain on the outside of new nuclear fuel assemblies on arrival at the power station. Moreover, minute leaks may develop in the fuel in the course of operation. Both sources may contribute to fission product isotopes in the reactor cooling water, particularly the more mobile radioisotopes iodine-131 and caesium-137.”

As argued by Koeberg Alert, these fission products bio-accumulate up the food chain, via our wheat, shellfish and dairy. While iodine-131 collects in the thyroid gland, caesium-137 is bone-seeking, (it loves calcium) and may end up in the bone marrow. Eskom disclaims any responsibility for increases in leukaemia and blood cancers caused by exposure to low-dose, long-term emissions from the plant. In addition NIASA fails to explain the cumulative impact of emissions of long-lived radionuclides and appears to operate under the false assumption that every year represents a clean slate.

Half-life is the interval of time required for one-half of the atomic nuclei of a radioactive sample to decay. Thus after that interval, a sample originally containing 8 g of cobalt-60 would contain only 4 g of cobalt-60 and would emit only half as much radiation. After another interval of 5.26 years, the sample would contain only 2 g of cobalt-60 and so on.

The annual allowable emissions from the plant are reported to have been scheduled upwards by the Minister, in order to accommodate Koeberg plant emissions and exceed European Safety Standards.

Here is information on some of the 65 radioisotopes associated with Koeberg and acknowledged by the Nuclear regulator.

Theranos of the Nuclear Industry

THE WORLD has its fair share of prospective ‘revolutionary ideas’, objectives that have failed to pan out. Not for lack of trying, nor because a notion isn’t any good on paper but rather the expression of a thought may not be based upon sound physics, or could be missing a vital technological breakthrough or component. In the case of Theranos, the idea of a portable blood analysis machine was surely innovative, but the underlying technology did not exist and the project failed to deliver. The result is a fraud case involving over-sell — under-performance, gross deception and astonishingly optimistic claims by one Elizabeth Holmes.

Similarly in 2007 the Department of Environmental Affairs held a parliamentary inquiry into the nuclear industry, in particular the much vaunted Pebble-Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) programme whose technology was essentially borrowed from Germany. As it turned out the programme was fundamentally flawed, and was deemed unsafe by the Germany government following a pebble bed reactor accident at Hamm-Uentrop.(1)

At this stage some R10bn had already been spent without so much as a working reactor. Submissions by civil society organisations Koeberg Alert and Earthlife Africa, provided engineering analysis of why Germany had dropped the thorium-uranium programme, in part due to the ‘tendency of the pebble fuel to disintegrate’. Other serious issues included problems of safety, lack of containment, waste fission products and a host of other technical issues.

This didn’t dissuade South Africa’s nuclear industry. Though government input into the programme seemingly ended with Minister Barbara Hogan cancelling further funds, the PBMR took on a new life under Kelvin Kemm, who began touting a gas-cooled version called High Temperature Modular Reactor (HTMR) produced by his own company Nuclear Africa, along with a supposedly ‘new fuel’.

Billions of rands of governmental spend was thus, for all intents and purposes, simply transferred to Nuclear Africa, under the auspice of Kemm who was then chair of NECSA in order to further acomplex prestige project, one which readily leads to economic dependency (see below).

Steenkampskraal Thorium Limited (STL) is a subsidiary company ‘in the business of developing and commercialising thorium as a clean safe energy source for the future.” The STL company site however professes “The primary goal of the HTR fuel development programme at STL is to produce fuel spheres containing uranium for irradiation testing in the short term, thorium/uranium in the medium term as well as thorium and plutonium in the long-term.”

Enter the X Factor, Yet Another Fuel

Meanwhile Eben Mulder and Martin van Staden announced their company X-energy was using a new modular reactor design alongside a brand new fuel. “X-energy has developed the compact Xe-100 reactor, which delivers 80MW of electricity and is about the size of an elevator shaft in a four-storey building,”. They further claim, “the US military has also signed a contract with the company in March to deliver its Xe-Mobile reactors”.

While Kemm’s project certainly has some merit in its purported use of presumably thorium instead of uranium, but certainly fails when it comes to the economics of producing Thorium Dioxide (see below) the X-energy project insists it has developed an advanced new nuclear fuel known as “Triso-X”.

Triso-X appears to be nothing more than a complex “tri-structural isotropic (TRISO) particle fuel” already developed within the nuclear industry. The company thus also claims somewhat disingenuously: “We manufacture our own proprietary version (TRISO-X) to ensure supply and quality control.”

If the claims are to be believed, TRISO fuel may significantly alter the burnup rate of fission products and change the melting of fuel within reactors. It is claimed to “double the previous mark set by the Germans in the 1980s” and thus is ‘three times the burnup that current light-water fuels can achieve—demonstrating its long-life capability.”     

According to pundits “TRISO particles cannot melt in a reactor and can withstand extreme temperatures that are well beyond the threshold of current nuclear fuels.”

A 2020 Nuclear Industry Journal article on ‘Uranium nitride tristructural-isotropic fuel particle’, demonstrates “testing of a novel coated fuel particle, uranium nitride tristructural-isotropic fuel” and claims “this fuel particle offers significantly higher uranium density over historic manifestations of coated fuel particles and may be more optimal for a range of advanced reactor applications”

There is however no consensus in the industry on the resulting fission products produced by the TRISO process impacting upon health and safety, nor the longevity of the fuel. One can only suggest that many of the objections to the latest Thorium-Uranium project, also apply. In fact many of the claims made by X-energy, beg the question, why Thorium?

There is no vaccine for climate change

CLIMATE SCIENTISTS have begun talking about a strategic ‘managed retreat’ as a response to climate change. This retreat they say is not an admission of defeat, but rather entails “a coordinated movement of people and buildings away from risks, which, in the context of climate change, are approaching from numerous fronts, including sea level rise, flooding, extreme heat, wildfire, and other hazards.”

NASA is warning of a growing energy imbalance caused by incoming radiation trapped by greenhouse gas.

This energy imbalance is “the most fundamental metric defining the status of global climate change,” according to a Nature Climate Change article. “Everything else about global climate change” writes Chelsea Harvey—including the warming of the planet—”is a symptom the mismatch of energy in versus energy out.”

New research published in Geophysical Research Letters finds the energy imbalance approximately doubled between 2005 and 2019.

Since I’ve written extensively on environmental issues since the late 80s, when I became one of the founders of our local environmental justice movement, I believe that I may state the following without having to fend off denialists, who label my writing ‘fringe’ and ‘crackpot conspiracy’.

When we talk about a ‘just transition’, we should remember there can be no justice if we are entering a major extinction event, that may include the extinction of human beings, that’s us, within decades. As Kumi Naidoo of Greenpeace puts it, “I wake up with a nightmare“.

Many scientists and activists believe it already too late to do anything practical about the looming climate disaster, we are locked in, they say, to mitigation and adaptation strategies that will of necessity include a staged retreat.

A similar question is posed by the “Deep Adaptation” movement. Its guru, writes Simon Kuper in the Financial Times, “gets criticised for overstating the risk of “near-term societal collapse”. But the truth is most of us probably underestimate it.”

One need go no further than the 1 degree change in temperature of the Southern Ocean over the previous decade (reported to the special Parliamentary Session on Climate Change in the run-up to COP17), to understand the dire consequences of the release of tonnes of methane hydrates sitting on the bottom of the ocean, creating an unstoppable feedback loop in our climate systems.

A new study, published in the journal Nature Communications, finds that beneath the surface layer of waters circling Antarctica, the seas are warming much more rapidly than previously known. Furthermore, the study concludes, this relatively warm water is rising toward the surface over time, at a rate three to 10 times what was previously estimated.

Tackle Historical Carbon Emissions

Climate change results from the cumulative buildup of GHGs in the atmosphere over time, not emissions in any particular year.

This is why we must urgently tackle our nation’s historical carbon emissions if we are to have any hope of success in reversing the damage. This means offsetting carbon that has already been released into the atmosphere, and doing it the right way, not simply by cooking the books.

Companies such as Microsoft for instance, have already embarked upon decarbonisation plans. The company will not only be carbon negative by 2030 but plans to erase its historical carbon footprint, capturing an amount of carbon equivalent to what it calculates is all of the carbon it has emitted since it was founded in 1975.

South African corporates have been slow to step up to the challenge. Two of the biggest GHG contributors over the past century have been and continue to be Sasol and Eskom — both represent GHG hotspots from outer space.

The Carbon Majors Project is an example of correct quantification of fossil fuel companies’ historical emissions.

Arctic heatwaves, melting permafrost, and Canadian fires do not make for great headlines. The retreat of our civilisation and end of democracy as the Earth becomes less habitable, may just do the trick.

Instead of accepting ministerial lip-service and cowtowing to markets, in effect negotiating our way into 2 degree plus climate change, we should be discussing drastic GHG reductions and urgent decarbonisation. Reductions not simply towards parity — neutrality or zero future carbon emissions, presumably offset on a 1:1 basis –, but actions to tackle historical offsets, at very least on a 1:3 basis or 1:5 basis.

In other words, a carbon negative strategy, for every 1 tonne of CO2 we produce, South Africa should offset by at very least 3 tonnes, reducing our emissions by an order of magnitude. In this way, instead of a ‘staged retreat of civilisation’, we might accomplish a GHG retreat, even a reset of the ‘energy imbalance’, thus stalling the need for solar shielding interventions and other untested technology.

Despite all the data pointing towards a worst case scenario, South Africa remains trapped in a tedious political debate surrounding a ‘just transition to renewable energy’, as the government drags its heels with a phased approach to the introduction of a carbon tax whose mitigation offsets are not immediately clear.

The country has yet to quantify its historical contribution to global GHG, and the project of auditing represents a challenge to researchers and mathematicians.

Then again, the country has yet to introduce any incentives for the manufacture of electric vehicles and is locked into the internal combustion engine. Many of the plans for the so-called Special Economic Zones, are centred around coal and mineral resource extraction.

What is clear, is the resulting energy imbalance from our country’s GHG contribution is steadily shifting our climate towards a catastrophic collapse of the holocene period. A geological measurement which has defined human habitat for millennia.

As a banner unfurled at Ascot on Sunday reads: We are racing to extinction. And along with it, the extinction of our own democratic freedom struggle.

Questions need to be asked

Is the promise of carbon offsets just another political vaccine, a stratagem to dampen activism without delivering the goods?

How do we know the carbon tax money is not being used on fruitless and wasteful expenditure?

How can we trust the result will not end up before yet another Zondo Commission?

Readers need to urgently question the assumptions made by our government, and especially the whereabouts of an independent monitoring mechanism, one that would need to monitor our nation’s contribution to GHG offsets. Reporting to parliament without delay.

Published in Green Times

Greens should challenge notion that banks determine “Environmental Leadership”

In 2016, ‘two men pretending to be police officers’ murdered Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Radebe the founder of the Amadiba Crisis Committee, an environmental group opposed to mining in Umgungundlovu in Eastern Mpondoland. 

In November this year, Fikile Ntshangase, deputy chairperson of the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation, was assassinated amid ‘claims of death threats and bullying by those in favour of the expansion of Somkhele Coal Mine, which requires the relocation of 21 families, which Ntshangase opposed’.

Instead of releasing paid advertising promoting their house brand, one would have expected WWF and others, to stand up in solidarity against the slaughter of environmentalists. The latest round of ‘leadership’ material glosses over the fact that environmental justice leaders are being killed and assassinated as we speak.

South Africa’s environmental justice movement originates in the tumultuous period in which organisations such as End Conscription Campaign were being banned. In particular, Earthlife Africa arose as a broad movement for environmental justice which broke terrain by being inclusive of human development and issues affecting ordinary black citizens. 

Having linked the environment to apartheid and its deleterious effect on our climate and habitat, environmental justices activists such as myself, took to the streets in successive waves of protest action over the decades. However it is abundantly clear that bankers and financiers are seeking to control this narrative by a strategy of ‘electing’ leaders within the movement.

A newsbrief posted this past month bluntly states:  ‘WWF Nedbank Green Trust environmental leaders graduate internship programme has been dedicated to developing the leadership capacity of graduates who want to contribute to a better environment’.

WWF is an organisation co-founded by apartheid financier Anton Rupert, the man responsible for creating a National Party sponsored cabal which continues to ignore the massive contribution of organisations such as Earthlife Africa, Environmental Justice Network and allied organisations.

In 2018 ELA national director Makoma Lekalakala was named co-winner of the prestigious Goldman Award alongside Liz McDaid of SAFCEI, a Southern African multi-faith institute addressing environmental injustice. Unlike ELA, SAFCEI is considered inside of the fold of the WWF Nedbank alliance. It took a foreign award to recognise the achievements of both parties.

Banks and corporate South Africa need to be told that they while they are free to support environmentalism, promoting their own favourites as ‘leaders’ whilst ignoring the immense sacrifice of persons such as Fikile Ntshangase and Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Radebe, is nothing more than a gross form of greenwashing, paid propaganda exercises calculated to deflect attention away from obvious holdings in oil, gas and fossil fuel.

Similarly, environmental activists need to be called to account for failing to raise solidarity with the Mfolozi Commmunity. We must take a stand on democratic accountability within the broader environmental justice movement. Leaders should be elected and accountable to membership of their organisations. Fund-raising should be transparent and open to member scrutiny.