Nuclear expert warns SA against cost

2012-10-30 16:34

Parliament - A British nuclear economist on Tuesday warned Parliament that the government was "ridiculously optimistic" about the potential cost of its nuclear power programme expansion.

"The government seems to have a history of assuming that things will go much better with nuclear power than they actually do," Stephen Thomas of Greenwich University told the standing committee on finance.

"The result is that South Africa has now embarked, this is the third time, on a nuclear programme on the basis of cost estimates that even before the programme has started appear ridiculously optimistic."

National Treasury has allocated R300bn for six new reactors to produce 9600 megawatt of nuclear power. The details of the plan are not known and experts are sceptical this sum will be sufficient.

Thomas said in the past decade the projected cost of nuclear construction had gone up sevenfold, to about 7000 US per kilowatt hour capacity of the plant.

"If a call for tenders is held next year I would be amazed if the figure that you receive is anything less than 7000 US per kilowatt."

Asked by MPs how this translated into the local currency, Thomas said it roughly meant building a nuclear reactor would cost at least R80bn.

He said this meant future generations would be saddled with debt with no clear provision to pay for it.

Thomas said the Integrated Resource Plan 10 made provision for new nuclear reactors with 92% reliability over time, but compared to international averages "that seems an inordinately optimistic assumption".

"Nuclear is the most risky option because in terms of its historic record very few nuclear plants are built to time and to cost, and a very large proportion of them don't operate as reliably as they are expected to."

Earthlife Africa project co-ordinator Tristen Taylor told MPs he would urge them not to approve financing for new nuclear plants without proper costing because it would violate the Constitution.

"Nobody knows what the nuclear programme will cost. It is simply an unknown factor. You have certain obligation in terms of the Constitution and the use of citizens' money. Essentially what it means is that Parliament cannot approve this expenditure."

Taylor said a nuclear tender process raised the spectre of large-scale corruption and proposed that if the government went ahead with it, tender documents be posted on the internet to ensure transparency.

In 2007, Eskom invited tenders for conventional light-water nuclear reactors, but following bids from Areva and Westinghouse, it shelved its plans for lack of funding.

The updated National Development Plan released in August called on the government to rethink its renewed plans to expand the nuclear fleet, warning it could prove too expensive and difficult to finance.

  • darryl.earnshaw - 2012-10-30 16:43

    I'll go with the Pom, Zuma and co. have NO IDEA

      bruce.williams.1044186 - 2012-10-30 16:52

      I agree. If they put it up to tender, Julius (and his mates) will probably win and they have ABSOLUTELY no clue about anything!!!

      tigra.aeris - 2012-10-31 08:57

      Lets do a little sum. R300bn for 9600 megawatt. R300,000,000,000 / 9,600MW = R31,250,000 per megawatt. To install a 2 megawatt commercial wind turbine, costs in the region of R30 million. Since we need 4,800 wind turbines to create 9,600MW of energy, the total cost of putting up the wind turbines would be 4,800 * R30 million = R144 Billion. So please dear parliament members - exactly what is so difficult to understand about the math?

      jeffrey.chan.1800721 - 2012-10-31 13:41

      @Tigra, I assume you didn't take into account the land cost for your 4800 wind turbines. Second point, our grid cannot have the unstable 9600MW of wind power, you will just destroy our grid.

  • wwrer.ww - 2012-10-30 16:53

    Over the past 10 years, commodity prices, including that of building materials have increased ... but we have the world's 5th largest reserves of uranium and Namibia the 6th largest and we are running out of coal which we are exporting.

      omge.klits - 2012-10-30 17:06

      clean energy alternatives already way cheaper than future nuclear.

      beverly.young3 - 2012-10-31 06:49

      Yes know what I mean, THEY do not understand this. I read an article yesterday, re spend BILLIONS on these 'so called experts' to tell the powers-that-be, what to do. So if one of these consultants, give them a story ....they take it as fact. Naturally, they havent a clue, they ignore i.e. your, no, we need nuclear power...and so it goes ahead. Looks good at the cocktail parties when the big wigs all get together....*sigh* my explanations are getting silly, but I am angry ...

  • shirley.steenkamp - 2012-10-30 16:54

    The warning is on deaf ears. This is the normal bull headed approach-look at e toll!

  • neilpretorius83 - 2012-10-30 17:52

    Here is what will happen: Government will dismiss his comments as 'misleading'. The story will die down for a few months. Suddenly reports of tender irregularities will appear. The DA will probe the issue, but government will dismiss it as 'cheap politicking'. Later, government will 'engage' with communities on the issue. The public will cry foul. Government will ignore it, saying that it is necessary because of some 'strategic energy plan'. Then - bam - they will just go ahead and do whatever they want anyway. Then government will come up with another bonehead idea and the process will start all over again.

      deon.botes.395 - 2012-10-30 17:59

      Chancellor House obviously knows best.

      beverly.young3 - 2012-10-31 06:50

      ha ha are so right

  • ed.jacobs.50 - 2012-10-30 17:55

    Why not push for the more expensive whatever, if you know you are to cream 5%? Really! It would be counter-revolutionary and not make any struggle-thinking political sense to go for less expensive options.

  • julio.sanfona - 2012-10-30 18:19

    The ANC love these multi billion Rand tenders, regardless whether they make economic sense or not. That's how they manage to fill their pockets and then leave the tax payers and future generations with the baby.

  • naas.scholtz - 2012-10-30 18:45

    Just a word of warning: This Stephan Thomas is NOT an expert... rather an anti-nuclear lobbyist, lets just call him a one sided big mouthed lier. I do not know how he always gets quoted. I can call on a few professors myself that will shoot him down in flames. Fact is: Nuclear power is to date the only clean option to the earth warming polluting base-load energy providers like coal or other fossil fuel fired sources. The next clean energy is hydro electric, which is probably just as expensive or more than nuclear power. Current base load power is generated at 31 c/unit. Nuclear would cost closer to 85 c/unit, solar over R2.00, wind energy over R1.50/unit. But they are unreliable and small scale.

      J.Stephen.Whiteley - 2012-10-30 19:01

      Spot on, Naas.

      warren.slater.353 - 2012-10-31 08:09

      He does seem educated (professor), not just some crackpot. I don't see any record of him being an anti-nuclear lobbyist although I haven't looked too hard. This does mention him being critical of certain nuclear aspects but when one is dealing with radioactive stuff.

      Des Burman - 2014-09-22 19:37

      It is really time for God to come down here and sort all this crap out ------ long overdue !!!!

  • Adil Smit - 2012-10-30 21:36

    This as it was just announced today that the UK will build 6 more nuclear reactors - to be built by a Japannese company.

  • alan.muir.18 - 2012-10-31 08:21

    Don't forget the back hands and the Concourt protection. Very few will afford it afterward.

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