Namibian churches concerned about impact of Russian nuclear offer

By Ecumenical News International
10 Aug 2007

The leader of the Council of Churches in Namibia has expressed concern about environmental problems that could be created if the uranium-rich southern African country accepts an offer by Russia to help build floating nuclear power plants - writes Rodrick Mukumbira from Windhoek.

"We are the custodians of instructions from God to look after the environment," the Rev Phillip Strydom, general secretary of the church council, told Ecumenical News International on 6 August 2007. "That duty is an order from the Creator, but here we have not been told how the environment will be affected."

During a visit to Namibia in March 2007, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov offered to assist the country in building off the coast a floating nuclear power plant, which is still new and untested technology. Fradkov made the suggestion during talks with Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba, The president later described the plan as a solution to self-sustaining electricity generation for Namibia.

Namibia imports the bulk of its energy requirements from neighbouring South Africa, which has warned of power shortages as it struggles to supply its own domestic market.

A floating plant requires the construction of a power unit in coastal waters not far from the recipients of the power supply.

"In itself, a nuclear power station is not a bad idea but what we have not been told is how the waste will be disposed of. We have not been told where the dumping areas will be located, and the levels of pollution," said Strydom. He added, "We need to be concerned about the people and our fragile environment. The effect won't be felt now but in the long run."

Namibia's National Society for Human Rights has objected to the proposal, and accused Russia of having a "poor nuclear safety record". Concerns have been cited that President Pohamba is ill informed on the dangers of uranium mining and nuclear power stations.

"When the Russians are involved in these matters, then what immediately comes to mind are their nuclear catastrophes, such as Chernobyl in 1986, during the Soviet era; and the several fire fiascos on board nuclear submarines like the Komsolets (in 1989), the Kurst (in 2000) and St Daniil Moskovsky (in 2006)," said the human rights society executive director, Phil ya Nangoloh. "Will Namibia be in a position to handle such disasters?" asked Nangoloh.

The environmental group Earthlife Namibia said the Russian plan would put "coming generations into serious jeopardy," and called on the Namibian government to come up with safer and sustainable options like solar and wind energy.

Namibia produces eight percent of the world's uranium requirements, and is the world's fifth-biggest producer of the resource, after Canada, Australia, Kazakhstan, Niger and Russia, according to the London-based World Nuclear Association.

[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]

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