NUCLEAR REGULATORY INFORMATION CONFERENCE
By Hilton Thorpe (Kromme Enviro-Trust & Thyspunt Alliance)
Eskom has now applied to the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) for a site licence for Thyspunt, but not yet for a plant licence. They will be applying in due course for a licence for a “Generation 111” Pressurised Water Reactor.
This being the case, it was a pleasant surprise when the Thyspunt Alliance was invited by the NNR to attend the “First Nuclear Regulatory Information Conference”, held in Pretoria from 5 – 7 October, 2016.
The licensing process for Nuclear 1 is the first to be handled by the NNR since its creation as successor to the Council for Nuclear Safety. They therefore have no experience in handling an extremely complex and crucial process with the potential to do tremendous harm. Wisely they decided to consult with all interested parties, including regulators from other countries, the applicant (Eskom); vendors, experts, and public representatives from South Africa.
This conference was the result. It was world-class, with presentations from all major stakeholders with the exception of the public. The atmosphere was cordial throughout, and the networking opportunities were formidable. An encouraging sign was the acceptance and respect shown to the Thyspunt Alliance, whose input is clearly taken seriously. However it must be added that there was a general assumption that Nuclear 1 would go ahead at Thyspunt, and not much attention has been paid by those participating to the merits or otherwise of proposed sites.
Generation 111 nuclear technology is a product of a group of nuclear vendors in Europe who worked together in an attempt to re-create confidence in nuclear power following the Chernobyl disaster.
Their proposals are known as “EURs” – European Utility Requirements (not European Union Regulations!)..
Twenty-five years later there are no commercially operating Gen 111 PWR examples, although several BRICS countries have plants under construction, with one in Russia expected to come on line shortly.
The world’s most prolific nuclear vendor, Areva, has been attempting to construct Gen 111 plants at Flamanville in France and at Olkiluoto in Finland. Both are years behind schedule and several times over budget, and Areva has gone bankrupt in the process. It is clear that Generation 111 is still at the R & D stage and has no commercial or safety record. This is not the impression being created by Eskom, who confidently assert that this is the new international standard, and the technology for which they will seek a licence.
As for emergency planning zones, every country is free to select its own and there are no fixed rules, though the International Atomic Energy Agency acts as watchdog. The EPZs proposed originally by Eskom (5, 16 & 50 kms) reflected best international practice at the time, and these are still applied in most Western countries, including the United States. But it is up to the regulator in any country to determine whether the technology and associated EPZs put forward by a developer conform with the country’s regulated safety requirements. In the case of South Africa it is the responsibility of the National Nuclear Regulator to determine whether Eskom’s reduced EPZs, to 3km, conform to the requirements of the NNR Act & Regulations. This is an extremely onerous responsibility, demanding world-class regulatory standards.
The Thyspunt Alliance specifically asked about the financial viability of the NNR, in view of ex-CEO Adv. Mkhize’s allegation to Parliament, prior to resigning, that the NNR was a “Mickey-Mouse organization which did not have the funding required to carry out its task”; and President Zuma’s threat to cut the budget by two thirds. The response was that it is standard practice for the Nuclear Regulator to charge the client – in this case, Eskom – for its services. The NNR appears to have secured sufficient funding for the process, and it will be important to observe whether this again gives Eskom leverage. There was no sign of shortage of funding for the Conference, which was of five star quality.
The NNR in its present form does not have the technical capacity to carry out the licensing process. Clearly it will be necessary to use well qualified and experienced international consultants, some of whom attended the conference. No commitment was made for this, but the NNR executive has gone out of its way to demonstrate credibility and it is to be hoped this is manifested in the implementation.
There is provision for public participation in the NNR regulations, but it is ill-defined. However it was encouraging to witness the emphasis placed on it by regulators from several countries. They stressed how important it is to satisfy the public that due process has been followed and safety concerns addressed.
The conclusions drawn from this conference are that there is a genuine recognition of the seriousness of this process, and the NNR is anxious to handle it properly. From the Thyspunt perspective, much will depend on the attitude of the Regulator towards 3 kilometer EPZs, in the light of the geographical features of the area. Meanwhile, we await with interest the conclusion of the Department of Environmental Affairs with regard to the EIA.
Hilton Thorpe’s attendance at the conference was sponsored by St Francis Property Owners and the Kromme Enviro-Trust.
THYSPUNT FINAL ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT REPORT FATALLY FLAWED
Assessment of the environmental impact of constructing a nuclear power station on the Thyspunt site has been in progress since 2008. The Scoping Report was released in that year. The first draft assessment report was issued in 2010, followed by a second draft in 2011 and a third in 2015. The final Environmental Impact Report was released on 25th February 2016.
Responses from Interested and Affected Parties have been submitted, including a response from Hilton Thorpe on behalf of the St Francis Kromme Trust, the St Francis Bay Residents’ Association and the Thyspunt Alliance.
This response focuses on four aspects of the environmental assessment which are flawed to the point that they constitute a barrier to adequate evaluation of the site and are in fact misleading, intentionally or otherwise.
- Emergency planning procedures have not been taken into consideration in the site evaluation. The viability of the Thyspunt site in terms of emergency planning has been an issue since the Kouga Coast Sub-Regional Structure Plan of 1997. Eskom has been well aware that this was the Achilles heel of the site, and its only solution has been an attempt to change the rules. Emergency planning is the responsibility of the National Nuclear Regulator, who has not played any role in the environmental impact assessment, and cannot play a role until such time as they receive an application for an operating licence. European Utility Requirements (EURs), Generation 111 & Reduced Emergency Planning ZonesOne of the major issues at Thyspunt has been the viability of the site in terms of internationally acceptable emergency planning zones. This dates right back to the Kouga Coast Sub-Regional Structure Plan of 1997. Eskom paid for this, one of whose “imperatives” was to protect the viability of the Thyspunt nuclear site. This was for evacuation purposes in the event of accidental release of radio-nuclides, in terms of internationally accepted Emergency Planning Requirements, which limited the population to 10000 within any 30 degree segment within 16 kilometres of the site. St Francis Bay fits almost exactly into such a 30 deg. segment.This is the only time the Alliance has questioned the nuclear component of the proposed project. It may be argued that EURs are a matter for the National Nuclear Regulator, and not for the EIA. We would agree with that, were it not for the abuse of the “Co-operative Agreement” between the DEA & DoE. This has been manipulated to ensure that the NNR plays no part in the EIA process, despite the fact that their decisions will have significant environmental consequences. The NNR will only begin its work after the EIA has been concluded. The two processes should have proceeded in parallel.
It could do nothing until a licensing application was received from Eskom for a site and technology licence. This only happened on 10 March, 2016, just as the EIA process was drawing to a close.
Eskom was concerned that the expansion of the St Francis area, and especially St Francis Bay, could threaten the viability of the site in terms of these requirements. Well they might be, since, even in 1997, the holiday population was well over the 10000 limit. Eskom fudged the whole question by quoting out-dated census figures, taken in August, when the population was at its lowest level.
Population stats were not the only factor involved in this issue. Additional considerations were the down-wind situation of the Greater St Francis area, as evidenced by the Headland By-pass Dunefields; and the single escape route, the R330, which had to serve 10 kilometres of coastline from Rebelsrus to the Kromme River, and which would itself be cut in the event of a nuclear cloud hitting St Francis, thus isolating Cape St Francis & potentially Sea Vista.
Eskom’s only solution to this was to change the rules. Gen 111 plants, in which “nothing can possibly go wrong, go wrong, go wrong”, with their 3km EPZs, were an ideal answer to the viability issue.
The entire Nuclear1 EIA is based on the premise that Eskom will be applying to the NNR for licences to build Generation 111 nuclear plants, to meet the commitment of 9600MW of nuclear power by 2030. Were this to happen, it would be in terms of European Utility Requirements (EURs), with their reduced emergency planning proposals. This is little more than propaganda.
To the Thyspunt Alliance this is a manipulative strategy to get round viability issues at Thyspunt & Duynefontein, neither of which currently conforms with internationally recognized emergency planning requirements. From Eskom’s point of view, it is crucial, since these are the only two remaining sites in contention.
From the point of view of the community, exclusion of the NNR is fundamentally dishonest, and contrary to the requirements of Just Administrative Action in Section 33 of the Constitution. It is our view that the EIA should not have been begun until the viability issue had been solved.
Nor do we have much confidence in the NNR, with its very limited budget, and as part of the Department of Energy, which is the very department pushing for Nuclear 1 to go ahead. At the very least it should be an independent body, with adequate funding and expertise.
Eskom has gone ahead at risk with the EIA on the assumption that these would be accepted by the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR).
European Utility Requirements
These are a laudable wish-list drawn up by a group of European nuclear vendors from 1991, shortly after the Chernobyl disaster. Among its major objectives were harmonizing safety-related requirements; common safety targets, common safety approaches, and common technical solutions to safety problems; low environmental impacts, reduction of emergency planning, and consideration of de-commissioning at the design stage.
Generation 111 plants are a product of this initiative.
At present it has to be stated that Gen 111 technology is unproven. 25 years after publication of the EUR ideals, apart from one small plant in Japan, there is not a single Gen111 plant in commercial operation. The world’s leading nuclear vendor, Areva, has two prototype plants under construction, one in France and one in Finland. They are years behind schedule, and some 3 times over budget, and the project has bankrupted Areva. The problems encountered are partly construction based, and partly technical. Some plants are under construction for BRICS countries, but no new ones are currently operating commercially.
Gen111 has no proven commercial or safety record, yet Eskom confidently predicts that this is the technology to be followed. DEA is requested to withhold an ROD until confirmation is received from the IAEA and at least one western national nuclear regulator that Generation 111 is now accepted as a recognised and proven PWR technology for commercial use. It is a massive gamble on Eskom’s part.
Emergency Planning Zones (EPZs)
Unless there is scientific evidence that there can be no possibility of nuclear contamination for more than 3 km, and that other considerations, such as wind direction, escape routes etc. have been adequately taken into account, we believe that the NNR should reject the Gen111 & reduced EPZ proposal, and the DEA should refuse to give a favourable ROD. Under those circumstances it would be argued that the Thyspunt site is not viable, for the reasons given above.
The general view in this area is that Eskom is seeking to by-pass the accepted international EPZ requirements, using a technically unproven technology, and to pass the buck to the local authority for evacuation outside the 3 km zone, whereas Eskom would previously have been responsible up to 16 kilometres.
It is inconceivable to us that the DEA would approve the FEIR whilst Eskom’s case rests on such speculative and unproven grounds.
- A Social Impact Report is intended to assess the effect a development will have on the society in which it is located. The report supplied for the Thyspunt EIA is deficient in almost every respect and the competence of the relevant specialist is called into question. Fatally Flawed Social Impact ReportFrom the first Draft Environmental Report it was apparent that the Social Impact Report was extremely weak. The Alliance has described it as “vacuous philosophical ramblings, more appropriate to a Scoping Report than to an environmental impact report”. Nothing has substantially changed , despite the EIA having been through five phases . The SIR was not even assessed from the perspective of the Revised Impact Assessment of 2011, let alone the EAPs interpretation. The revised version was significantly different from the original set.
The Alliance has requested the DEA to dismiss the entire report on the grounds that it fails to respond to the following:
- Failure to follow the revised Impact Rating Criteria produced for RDEIR Version 2, or the EAP interpretation, and their implications;
- Failure even to mention, let alone evaluate, comments in the Revised Nuclear Siting Investigation Programme of 1994, which clearly states that the “small holiday resorts should be left unaffected”;
- Failure to explore adequately potential fatal flaws such as impact on Sense of Place;
- Failure to provide substantive mitigation proposals;
- Failure to carry out, evaluate and report on relevant research, such as the impact on Lephalale of the Medupi project.
- Failure to produce a valid Environmental Impact Report.
The Alliance submission points out that, had the Social specialist followed the EAP’s interpretation of the IRCs, this could very possibly have led to a “fatal flaw” on Sense of Place. They list 15 other impacts which should have been assessed in the same way, and could have been affected.
Their conclusion is that the entire Social Impact Assessment is fatally flawed, and should be rejected by the DEA; that the specialist should be replaced by a more competent person; and that the entire Social Impact Report should be re-done.
- One of the major deficiencies in the Social Impact Report is the assessment of the impact on what is known as ‘Sense of Place’. This is defined as “that distinctive quality that makes a particular place memorable to the visitor … the unique quality or character of a place”. The Thyspunt development will have a substantial impact on visitors’ – and residents’ – sense of place, but it is hardly mentioned in the report. Sense of PlaceIt is the potential impact on sense of place which is the greatest concern for the Greater St Francis community. The concept of “Sense of Place” is more subtle and intangible than some other issues like “transportation” or “infra-structure”. It addresses a human response to an environment. As such it is at a deeper level than most of the impacts discussed in the Social Impact Report. The Alliance describes it this way:
Sense of Place is a human response evoked by experiencing a particular location. It is a combination of factors, sensory, physical and mental, ancient and modern, natural & man-made, bio-physical, spiritual, cultural & social, associations and memories – in other words the total impression created by a particular environment on the human spirit.
What is at issue here is the change to the whole area that would come about as a consequence of a decision to go ahead with any massive industrial development, whether nuclear or not, in such a sensitive, beautiful, pristine and inaccessible environment. The proposed site is right in the middle of an archaeological and paleantological treasure house of some the earliest known history of mankind, which led SAHRA to reject any nuclear project out of hand. Access requires disturbing wetlands in the vicinity of one of the best examples in South Africa, and possibly the world, of an active headland by-pass dunefield system, described by the dune morphology specialist as having high conservation value. It requires transmission lines straddling 150 kilometres of land, described in the transmission line EIA as being “areas of high scenic beauty”, having “wide-ranging vistas”, and “low visual absorption capacity”. Part of this would pass through the Baviaanskloof Mega Reserve, which is a declared World Heritage Site. This area also has the potential to be declared a World Heritage site. We are not discussing a run-of-the-mill area with insignificant value.
Furthermore, it is the sense of place which has attracted people to this “top-end” area, whether, retirees, holiday-makers, tourists or others in the first place, and continues to do so. They have been attracted by the natural and man-made developments here, which are now world-renowned. In our view, in terms of the EAP’s interpretation of the Impact Rating Criteria this constitutes a fatal flaw. To allow a State utility consciously to destroy this, especially when there are other options, is environmental vandalism, and completely unacceptable.
The Social Impact Report hardly mentions Sense of Place. Its assessment is superficial in the extreme, quite apart from ignoring the implications of the EAP’s interpretation.
It should be obvious that the local community would be “substantially affected”, not least by the massive influx of unskilled and unemployed job seekers, for whom no provision would be made, and no suitable land available to accommodate them. This is a new issue in the new South Africa. Freedom of movement is one of the great new freedoms brought about by the South African Constitution, and is strongly supported. However, it has environmental consequences, and deserves serious attention in the Social Impact component of the EIA. Once again, it receives cursory attention, and mitigation proposals are little short of puerile.
The inevitable consequence will be land invasion, squalid informal settlements, social pathologies of all kinds, and competition with the existing local population for such jobs as are created. The Social Impact Report simply mentions this in passing as a possibility. Eskom has clearly indicated its prediction that this will happen, by placing a hideous and inordinately expensive fence around its property. Proposed mitigation measures have no prospect of addressing the issue at all.
The Alliance regards Sense of Place as an “irreplaceable resource”. Once destroyed, it will never recover. This is an unmitigable problem, which will change for ever the Sense of Place of the area. It is a fatal flaw.
- Most importantly, the ‘impact rating criteria’ were originally structured in such a way that it was impossible for any impact, however damaging, to constitute a fatal flaw to the development proposal. This was acknowledged, but not implemented in the several revisions to the study, which remains deficient in all respects as a result. Fatally flawed Impact Rating Criteria (IRCs)These are the criteria used to determine the significance of an identified impact, of which there were some 250. They play a key role in decision-making, and it is crucial that they are accurate, objective and followed by the specialists.
A whole chapter of the Final Report is devoted to these (Ch3). They were devised by consultants, Gibb, and revised twice in response to criticism by the Alliance and the peer reviewer. Following the first revision, of 2011, specialists were required to assess each impact from seven perspectives: Extent, duration, intensity, impact on irreplaceable resources, consequence, probability & significance, each building on the previous categories. Each could justify a low, medium or high rating, and the assessment works through each criterion to determine the ultimate significance of an impact.
Mitigation proposals are then made by the specialists in an attempt to reduce the significance of the impact. If “significance” is still rated high after mitigation, this should be regarded as a “fatal flaw”, and the project should not go ahead. These conclusions are listed in the Executive Summary of the Main Report. Eskom has made a great point of the fact that no specialists had identified fatal flaws. This was an invalid comment if the rating criteria were flawed.
From the point of view of the Alliance the sticking point was “intensity” This demanded that, for a high rating, both the “natural processes would temporarily or permanently cease”, and “valuable, important, vulnerable or sensitive systems or communities would be substantially affected”.
The key word here was “and”, which meant that a high rating could only occur if both sets of criteria applied simultaneously. The Alliance argued in response to the revision that this was unreasonable, since the effect on one could be very severe, whilst on the other it could be less so; and impractical, since there were no specialists who were competent to judge both sets of criteria.
A response to this was only received from Gibb’s Environmental Assessment Practitioner (EAP) who Is running the EIA, four years later, in September, 2015, shortly before release of the Draft Final Report. The EAP conceded that it was not necessary for both sets of criteria to be high simultaneously, and that “intensity” could be rated high if either side was rated high. This was a radical change which completely changed the picture. Without a high rating for intensity, it was impossible to identify a “fatal flaw”.
The question arising from that is whether the specialists reached their conclusions in terms of the EAP’s interpretation, or in terms of the straightforward reading of the criteria contained in Ch3. All the specialist reports need to be reviewed for conformity with the EAP’s interpretation, and no Record of Decision would be appropriate until this had been determined. An example was demonstrated as how the use of the different criteria could lead to very different conclusions.
The Alliance is arguing that the impact rating criteria were incorrectly worded, potentially leading to incorrect conclusions. At this stage this was a fatal flaw in the process.
The submission concludes that, in view of the flaws identified, the Thyspunt Alliance must demand that Department of Environmental Affairs reject the “Final Environmental Report”, and refer it back to Gibb to address the issues raised, in terms of NEMA Regulation 34.2(b).