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If you spend any time at all in South Africa, you'll probably hear references to Pofadder, a small town in the Northern Cape synonymous with backwardness and remoteness; the American version would be Hicksville. A shocking new revelation, however, is due to thrust this town under the media spotlight.

For several months now, the normally well run privatised state power company Eskom has been having some trouble with powercuts in Cape Town and the surrounding areas1. Although rumours of sabotage2 and that old standby, terrorism, were bandied around, it seems that the problem is as simple as a failed generator at the country's nuclear power plant. With Cape Town due to face a cold hard winter, residents are stocking up on generators, candles and blankets in a buying surge very similar to the one seen shortly before the 1994 elections. Costs from the powercuts are currently estimated at R500 million, and are expected to rise into the billions. Meanwhile, journalists are digging deeper on the story, looking for some answers. What they have found, however, simply raises more questions.

Koeberg power station was built in 1976 under the auspices of the Apartheid government. Nuclear power was at that time a highly prized state secret for any country that had it, and the fear of 'safe' nuclear power being used by the controlling government to make nuclear weapons was a serious concern for those countries with and without it. With South Africa at the time under UN sanctions, procurement of the necessary technology and expertise was a problem. However, by means of some highly profitable 'under the table' dealings with China and Russia, South Africa was unexpectedly blessed with more nuclear expertise and material than it needed, and certainly more than it could publicly declare without instigating stronger sanctions and possibly even war. The solution was obvious; publicly build one power station, and secretly build another, where all sorts of alternative research could also take place.

By utilising an already extensive local knowledge of mining, a massive underground bunker, containing laboratories, three functioning nuclear reactors, staff quarters, dining areas and an entertainment area was built in the Northern Cape, below the town of Pofadder. This is in fact misleading, the town of Pofadder was built as a cover for the entrances to the bunker. In the event of nuclear war - a not entirely unlikely scenario at the time - the bunker could offer protection for heads of state and other dignitaries.

Following the peaceful transition to democracy in 1994, the new government found itself with, amongst many other problems, a top secret nuclear bunker filled with a variety of dirty nuclear weapons, reactors and other particularly nasty bits of research that would make Wouter Basson proud. Since so few even knew of its existence, it was easy to buy off or kill the few who did. The up and coming ANC had learnt a few dirty tricks from the old guard it replaced, and proved most efficient at containing the secret. By allowing the Pofadder reactors, now hopelessly outdated by modern standards, to feed the Cape Town power grid, the government was able to receive a helpful injection of cash from the now privatised Eskom power company, while still maintaining research into various scientific projects that might not have been well received by the general public.

However, a few months ago, something went wrong with the Pofadder bunker. Although neither the government or military have been forthcoming, the few satellite images available show a small cloud of smoke covering the Pofadder area and slowly dissipating with the wind at the same time that Cape Town experienced the first power cut. Since then the area has experienced a small but strong military presence, and it appears that for the first time in ten years, Koeberg is taking on the power load for the entire Cape area without assistance, and failing. Although there is a statewide media gag on the story, it is only a matter of time before it becomes known internationally.

1: http://www.iol.co.za/index.php?set_id=1&click_id=124&art_id=vn20060315103457657C267843
2: http://www.sabcnews.com/south_africa/crime1justice/0,2172,122637,00.html

Well, not really. But wouldn't it be cool if it was?

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