Monday, February 22, 2010

Nuclear Disaster

Our house in Gerardsville - gosh how things have changed!)

We used to live in a lovely spot, called Gerardsville. No-one in Gauteng has ever heard of it. It is near the slightly better known Hennopsriver. It was thornveld. Our house looked out onto a faraway hill called Kopjie Alleen (literally “hillock standing on its own”) and further West, into the distance, onto the hills of Lanseria and the Cradle of Humankind.

We lived in a thatch house with an upstairs bedroom. I looked out of it one evening, to see that in the untouched land beyond my stone wall, someone had pitched a tent! I was a bit puzzeled and went to enquire, fearful that squatters might suddenly take it into their heads to spoil my remote and unspoilt bliss. It turned out to be inhabited by two of the strangest and most unlikely characters. Two Eastern Orthodox Monks!

I greeted them breezily, as though it was entirely the usual to find two fully robed, bearded Eastern Orthodox Monks camping in a tent on the borders of one’s property, and enquired as to what they might be doing there. My heart sank. They belonged to the Eastern Orthodox Church. They were “missionaries” and they had just purchased the property which bordered mine and were going to build a bloody great Monastery on it!

And they did just that. The chapel was odd looking, to the non-Eastern Orthodox eye. It had a great Christos Pantocrator image on the ceiling, with blazing eyes. (It was apparently painted by one of the nuns, who had to be given some kind of special dispensation to enter the Chapel and lie on her back for a couple of months on scaffolding while she painted Jesus.)

The Chapel had nowhere to sit and everything about the rest of the Monastery looked vaguely mid-Eastern European rural. Somewhere Borat or someone of similar ilk would be very much at home. They ploughed up the virgin soil and planted non-indigenous things in it. They rang bells at four o’clock in the bloody morning. The objected to my tenant, who lived at the other end of my property, (but closer to them) playing Madonna after they had gone into the Eastern version of the Greater Silence.

It was difficult. But it was when Leon noticed them burying dead brethren in the grounds of the monastery – in a completely dolomitic area – that he suggested we start looking for somewhere else to live. That was the one problem.

The other, I had noticed soon after moving into the area. It was signs which were put up on the few stop-signs that there were (in the absence of lamp-posts, about a meeting which was going to be held at the Tusker’s Arms, on a Saturday afternoon, to discuss how to stop the PBMR. Now for those of you who may not know, the PBMR stands for the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor – and it was a grand scheme of the government which was intended to end South Africa’s impending energy woes.

I and a friend, who knows about such stuff, went to the meeting. It was one of those hot wintery afternoons on the Highveld. The Tusker's Arms had the overwhelming smell of stale ale. It seemed to infect everything. The wooden bar stools, the fake leather couches, the curtains, the floor the ceiling.

There a somewhat rag-tag bunch of anti-nuclear activists, and one or two locals, listening with increasing horror to the details of what it was all going to cost; what the impact would be; what the risks would be of trucks trundling along the R511, past one of the fastest growing townships in South Africa, carrying nuclear waste for disposal God knows where.

Then we heard from a smug, self-satisfied representative of Pelindaba, the plant where the PMBR would be housed. We heard how this was the safest option for energy in the whole wide world and how we didn’t have any other realistic options and how everything else would be, in the long run, less efficient and more expensive.

Between 2006 and 2010, the PMBR received a mere R7.2 billion from the state, according to the recent issue of the Mail and Guardian (19 -25 Feb 2010). PMBR was a public private partnership (PPP) between nuclear industry players and the government.

Last week, that was dropped to R11.4 million for the next three years (effectively about plus minus R3.5 million per annum). Approximately 600 or the 800 employees are about to be retrenched. Effectively, the PMBR is dead.

Apologies for the fruitless and wasteful expenditure of R7.2 billion are eagerly awaited by all of us, who sat that dreadful day, in the Tusker’s Arms, being fed a load of nuclear bullshit.

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