South Africa, the biggest carbon dioxide emitter on the continent, may be told to reduce its CO2 emissions at the next international meeting of signatories to the Kyoto Protocol.
But the country would not be able to do so without introducing more nuclear power, Tseliso Maqubela, chief director in charge of nuclear affairs in the department of mineral and energy affairs, said on Tuesday when he addressed the department of environmental affairs' parliamentary committee.
In what appears to be a move to pave the way for the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR), Maqubela said if South Africa continued to rely primarily on coal, the country would not be able to commit itself to reducing CO2 emissions. He said South Africa did not want to increase its importation of hydro-energy as this affected foreign policy.
In terms of the Kyoto Protocol, South Africa is classed as a developing country and is not required to reduce its CO2 emissions as developed nations are. The protocol arose from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Joseph Matjila, the chief director of environment quality and protection for the department of environmental affairs, told the committee that at the next phase of international discussions of the Kyoto Protocol, it "was likely" that South Africa would be forced to reduce its emissions.
"Among the countries likely to be pressured, South Africa is at the top. This forces us to re-look at our energy, because sooner or later we will be forced to reduce our C02 emissions," Matjila said.
However, at the launch of the government's climate change response strategy earlier this month, Chippy Oliver, director-general of environment affairs, said as South Africa's economy grew, electricity generation would increase, so that in the next 15 years our C02 emissions would have doubled.
He said the economy depended on cheap coal, and coal would therefore "be part of the picture for the future".
The department of environmental affairs approved the environmental impact assessment for the PBMR last year amid claims that it was flawed. There were several appeals against the decision. Former environment minister Valli Moosa was meant to rule on the appeals, but as with the appeals on the N2 Wild Coast toll road, he never did.
Environmental Affairs and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk will make a ruling on both.
Two of the most contentious issues about the PBMR were the secrecy surrounding the economic viability of the project and the lack of any way to dispose of the high-level radioactive waste. All high-level radioactive waste is currently stored on site at Koeberg.
Maqubela conceded that waste disposal was "a concern". The options were to continue to store it where it was as an "interim" measure, to dispose of it deep underground in a geologically stable spot, or reprocess it for reuse.
There is no site anywhere in the world which is licensed to dispose of high-level nuclear waste.