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Integrated Resource Plan: Nuclear has to be part of a robust energy mix in the future

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Knox Msebenzi is managing director of the Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa.

It is clearly stated in the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 2019 that 24 gigawatts of decommissioned coal power will be replaced by clean energy technologies that include nuclear. If Eskom had been allowed to build new capacity when it predicted a crisis, South Africa would not have experienced devastating load shedding.

With regard to the Opinionista article by Liz McDaid in Business Maverick of 19 November 2020 titled “Connecting the dots: Red lights are flashing over what appears to be nuclear-by-stealth”, it is necessary to restate some of the dots (facts) so the reader can connect for themselves and interpret the picture they see.

In the IRP 2019, the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) clearly states that it is committed to “a diversified energy mix that reduces reliance on a single or a few primary energy sources”. The plan is to reduce the dependence on coal by decommissioning 24GW of capacity in the planning period of 2030 to 2050, taking into consideration developments in the international space and the need for adequate preparation. Policy Decision 8 clearly states: “Commence preparations for a nuclear build programme to the extent of 2,500 megawatts at a pace and scale that the country can afford because it is a no-regret option in the long term.”

In May 2020, the minister announced, in keeping with the provisions of IRP 2019, that the department would “begin work on a road map for the procurement of 2,500MW of new nuclear capacity. It will consider ‘all options’, including small modular reactor (SMR) projects led by private companies and consortiums.”

This was followed in June 2020 by the publication of the Request for Information (RFI). The document is comprehensive, expecting elaboration of technical issues as well as possible funding models. It also requires the bidders to address the “degree to which the proposed SMR technology is related to South Africa’s previous experience in SMR development (namely PBMR)”.

Steve Jobs, in his famous commencement speech at Stanford University, said “you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards”. We can indeed connect the dots, but the big picture we see is influenced by our paradigms and perception. If one is hellbent on judging the DMRE in terms of perceptions of past behaviour, one will see a certain picture. When some of us who are not anti-nuclear connect the dots, we see a different picture altogether. Even the so-called red lights that are flashing … to some of us they mean we need to plan urgently for the future nuclear build.

Taking into consideration all the above developments, it is surprising that some outspoken civic organisations are crying foul and labelling the process secretive and an attempt to introduce nuclear by stealth. The emphasis on SMRs and the consideration for these projects to be led by private companies and consortiums should be welcomed by organisations that are concerned about misuse of state funds.

What are these organisations afraid of if they are confident that their assertions that nuclear is unreasonable and undesirable are true? It is imperative that the national planning processes should take into consideration short-, medium- and long-term horizons. Many countries have 50-year-plus plans. Nuclear new build may not be in the period to 2030, but the planning and preparation for it is well articulated in the IRP 2019, so that it can be implemented as soon as possible post 2030.

It is clearly stated in the IRP 2019 that the decommissioning of 24GW of coal capacity will be replaced by clean energy technologies that include nuclear. Planning, by definition, is for the future not for now. Thus connecting the dots backward, if Eskom had been allowed to build new capacity when it predicted that a crisis was looming, South Africa would not have experienced devastating load shedding.

The UK is an example of a developed country bolstering its nuclear capacity. The US’s International Development Finance Corporation recently announced that it will support South Africa’s new nuclear build plans. All our BRICS counterparts have adopted an inclusive energy mix. Other African countries are in the process of going the nuclear route as well. According to the World Nuclear Association, seven sub-Saharan Africa countries have signed agreements to deploy nuclear power.

A robust energy mix that has a developmental focus is needed for South Africa and the plan should have nuclear as a major component. DM

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All Comments 8

  • You can turn it upside down and examine from all sides Msebenzi and the conclusion is the same. (1) Nuclear takes much longer to bring on line. (2) The money spent on nuclear build will be for a multinational company, leaving the country and creating very little local employment. (3) Nuclear has inherent and unavoidable dangers. (4) The deciding factor is energy derived from nuclear build is many, many times more expensive than renewables, and that’s before considering decommission costs. (5) Any irrational decision to include nuclear in our energy mix will be challenged in a rational court of law, and quite rightly so.

  • An intelligent national grid that can accommodate many independent power generating sources utilising renewables is what we should be planning for. This will open the way for power generation to take place where it is needed with any excess generation being made nationally available through the grid. It also makes for a much more robust and resilient system for the supply of electric power and will empower local communities.

  • The UK Hinckley Point C is bedevilled by cost and time over runs. If I remember correctly the proposed Wilfa nuclear station on Anglesey has been binned. Nuclear is just ripe for plundering due to the large scale of the budget required to include belts and braces safeguards.

    Renewables with battery backup and hydrogen seem to me to be the way forward on a micro grid basis feeding the national grid as needed.

    But we will get whatever the ANC wants as they are still bound by the National Democratic Revolution to grab or steal all the “levers” of the state and private business.

    Until the NDR is refuted, I see no progress being made to mitigate the economic abyss we are in.

  • The nuclear industry telling us that nuclear is a “clean energy”. What we are afraid of is a Long island or a Chernobyl or a Fukushima happening in the Western Cape but I assume you already know that which is why you’re trying to sell your stinky nuclear build as “clean energy”. Your problem is radioactive waste. Clean that, and you may have a chance to state your case. At the moment, we all know your industry is full of Russian skulduggery, secretive deals, worst case pricing, and nuclear waste you can’t do a single thing with.

  • One of the justifications that the UK used to build a new nuclear power plant was to keep their nuclear skills. As far as I am aware South Africa has already largely lost those skills and they are not needed from a defense perspective in any event. New nuclear at about R1.60 per kWh is about 3 times more than new solar at R0.6 per kWh. Nuclear does not make economic sense, even if one has to factor in the cost of big battery storage. These numbers are from a talk by De Ruyter, but they line up with other numbers I have seen. You can check De Ruyter’s speech out here https://m.miningweekly.com/article/de-ruyter-calls-for-upscaling-of-power-procurement-plans-as-he-questions-whether-coal-ipp-will-proceed-2020-11-24/rep_id:3861

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