Working Paper

The Social Shaping of Nuclear Energy Technology in South Africa

The main controversies and coalitions in favour of and in opposition to the South African nuclear build programme was analyzed in this document. The coalition’s structure and the main arguments in the debate can explain why the South African government chose to procure nuclear power over other alternative options. The nuclear build programme shapes two polarized coalitions. The opposing coalition is larger and consists mainly of civil society organizations concerned with environmental issues and good governance. The National Treasury is the most powerful actor, which is the main political counterweight to supporters in the DoE, NECSA, and the Presidency. The coalition of supporters is much smaller and consists mainly of government actors, business, and a few experts in academia and consulting firms. The supporting coalition may be smaller, but has higher stakes in the programme, as well as immediate financial and employment benefits in case of success. The arguments in the discourse network relate to the six political conditions that help to explain why they should favour nuclear programmes. First, the debate on the cost of the nuclear programme reveals the main political battles within the ANC. The subordination of opposition to political authority is particularly striking in the single party system. Most checks and balances occur within the ruling party, while the formal opposition poses no immediate electoral threat.