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Why SA should welcome nuclear energy

Sep 09 2015 07:25

THE COUNTRY needs to have a strategic goal of using much more electricity than currently used, but to use each kilowatt-hour more efficiently than before. This is a sensible and profitable approach.

The intermediate term challenge is how to build more power producing units to generate much more electricity than at present, but in the most cost effective way possible.

South Africa needs to vastly increase its electricity production and consumption.

Nuclear power is the answer

The five general categories of “nuclear problems” as projected by the popular media and anti-nuclear groups are in fact highly exaggerated or plain and simply incorrect.

Taking into account South Africa’s vast size and distributed major centres of consumption, there is no other practical large scale base load energy supply which can be built in the southern part of the country other than nuclear.

Media confusion

The popular media, often inadvertently, tends to project an incorrect picture, thereby making it difficult for the general population to make informed decisions.

Common faults are: projecting wind and solar power output as their “nameplate” capacities rather than indicating that wind typically only delivers a quarter of the nameplate figure, at random times, and solar does not produce power at night.

Wind generating records, which are now being produced world-wide, indicate that wind often only produces half of the projected 25% under real operational conditions. These realities are usually hidden from the public.

Other media faults include constantly referring to nuclear as extremely dangerous when in fact it has the best safety record of all energy sources. For example, not one single person was killed or harmed by radiation during the Japanese Fukushima incident, yet it is constantly referred to as a “nuclear disaster” in the popular media.

Nuclear power price and cost

Nuclear power is not expensive. The so-called cost of electricity should really be measured as the price of the electricity per kilowatt-hour as sold to the public. Under reasonable international banking conditions nuclear-generated electricity is cheaper than coal-generated electricity.

The project construction schedule must not be confused with the cost, or more correctly the price, as sold, of the final product, the electricity itself. A surprising number of rather senior people in business don’t seem able to grasp these differences, which is a rather worrying indicator.

A grocery hypermarket may be twice the size and complexity of a grocery supermarket but that does not mean that the hypermarket sells its products at twice the price of the supermarket.

Other “cost factors” frequently overlooked in public are issues such as the fact that nuclear power plants are designed for a 60 year lifetime whereas wind power systems are typically designed for a 20 year life cycle. So in comparing the two, one needs to start by taking three 20 year wind plant periods and then compare that cost to a single nuclear plant operating lifetime.

Nuclear power also does not need a backup system on permanent standby for when the wind does not blow.

Honest and accurate calculations and projections should be used when calculating the real cost of the electricity produced and then sold to the consumers.

South African nuclear export

South Africa is a highly competent country in the fields of manufacturing and fabrication, related to nuclear systems.

South Africa is one of the oldest nuclear countries in the world, with an established track record of competent experience.

A clearly articulated government objective in the South African nuclear power expansion programme is for the country to play a significant role in exporting locally-fabricated nuclear components and assemblies worldwide.

This is a correct objective and should be pursued right now with maximum vigour. It is perfectly reasonable for the country to earn significant foreign income from nuclear exports while the local nuclear power stations are under construction. Such income will offset the unrealistic “nuclear cost”, which is so often quoted in some newspapers in such a way as to appear as if it were a once-off payment carried out in one year.

South Africa certainly does not have enough trained and skilled people on hand now to maximise the benefits to be gained from nuclear export, but that is one of the exciting challenges on hand. The skilled job creation potential is enormous, with major implications for economic growth.

The South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) is already exporting such locally manufactured nuclear assemblies, so the process has already started.
 
The South African team

South Africa possesses all the elements of the team required to build nuclear power plants. Such a team includes not only the nuclear scientists and engineers, but also the bankers, economists, lawyers and diplomats who collectively make up such a team.

The nation also has the industrial experience to produce the required technological and construction inputs, and to supply the project management expertise required.

Certainly, there is not enough capacity in place, but with the correct domestic and international partnerships the building of nuclear power plants is not something to be feared.

It is a vista to be welcomed.

* This is an edited extract from a paper by Nuclear Africa titled Nuclear Power is Essential for National Progress. It backs up the above points in the full report, which can be read here.



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