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Time to make your voice heard on the subject of new nuclear power in South Africa

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Chris Yelland, energy advisor to OUTA, and managing director at EE Business Intelligence.

The Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 2019 indicates that a nuclear build programme ‘is a no-regret option in the long term’. I disagree and consider that a nuclear new-build programme is exactly the opposite – a very high risk and high-regret option indeed.

The National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa), has issued a consultation paper and called for public input, comment and response to a determination by the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, in terms of Section 34(1) of the Electricity Regulation Act, 2006, to procure 2,500 MW of new nuclear power in South Africa.

The ministerial determination was sent to Nersa for its consideration and concurrence, which is a necessary step before the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) can issue a request for proposals to nuclear vendors following an open, transparent and competitive procurement process.

I am opposed to new nuclear power in South Africa, and this is definitely not because I am ideologically against nuclear energy or nuclear technology per se, but for sound, pragmatic reasons and the absence of a valid business case, including, amongst other factors:

  • The high capital cost/interest during construction and owner’s development costs;
  • The long planning, authorisation, procurement and construction times of over a decade;
  • The inevitable high cost- and time-overruns associated with complex mega-projects;
  • The construction and operating inflexibility of nuclear power in a power system that increasingly needs flexible generation capacity; and
  • Most of all, the need to commit to a single vendor country, vendor company, technology and design for a period of 100 years – including construction, operation and decommissioning.

This ministerial determination comes at a time when the world of energy and electricity is undergoing rapid change, when the prices of renewable and flexible generation technologies are plummeting, when new energy storage technologies are emerging, when the future of large-scale, centralised generation is changing and when the demand for electricity over long-distance transmission grids is decidedly uncertain and declining.

The Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 2019 indicates that a nuclear build programme “is a no-regret option in the long term”. I disagree and consider that a nuclear new-build programme is exactly the opposite – a very high risk and high-regret option indeed. This is not the time to be making extremely expensive 100-year commitments.

So, I urge thinking people to oppose new nuclear power in South Africa – because this is clearly not a national priority, and a new nuclear procurement cannot prevent the current electricity crisis from becoming a catastrophe in the course of the next decade.

Written comments on the ministerial determination for 2,500 MW of new nuclear power in South Africa should be sent by email to Nersa at [email protected]. The closing date is for written comments was 5 February 2021, but generally Nersa does accept written comments after the closing date too. The dates for public hearings on the ministerial determination will be announced by Nersa shortly.

Now is the time to make your voice heard on the subject of new nuclear power in South Africa. DM

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  • But I would like to point readers to a recent study on energy by the team at RethinkX, which is a free download from their website.  In the report “Rethinking Energy 2020 -2030” they state that “We are on the cusp of the fastest, deepest, most profound disruption of the energy sector in over a century”.  Their detailed analysis shows the impact reducing renewable costs will have on the total energy sector.  Locking South Africa into expensive nuclear technology will impact on our capacity, as a country, to compete going forward.  This report is an extension of predictions from Tony Seba which he has made in the past, and which have been proven true.
    To my mind it would be foolish to embark on a nuclear journey without considering the implications of the predictions made in the RethinkX report.

    • Hi Chris. You have driven me to respond yet again with your negative bias against nuclear energy sadly showing again. (you have seen, I hope, my first extensive response to your Number 4 special demand once again about the shortcoming of having flexibility from Nuclear Power Stations is a negative feature which is cart before the horse argument.)
      With that as background, you now headline opposition to the official statement that:- “The Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 2019 indicates that a nuclear build programme ‘is a no-regret option in the long term’.” Another cart trying to lead the horse to drink! In the short term, ( 17 % of that is supplied by widely dominant hydro and < 2 % by wind and solar options and ~ 1% by bio-mass. Look it up. Germany, with the most expensive energy, has a grid supply of well over 70 GW but benefit to the extent of less than 20% (load factor) being dispatched. They look to importing oil from Russia and have halted all further wind projects. Nuclear stations have lifetimes of 60 years, (or now going up to 80!) the fuel is an inexpensive, widely available long term (breeders) component, the area demanded is extremely small, the energy provided is on human demand, not natural availability! By building a standard recognised set of stations in a project (long term) having an excess of just 15% to cover all routine maintenance and odd outages securely and limiting import extent to < 10% component (security) one builds an energy foundation which is unlike the inbred set of inconsistent set of sources in a mixed grid, which is certainly not available for the critical supply of this country's long term baseload energy demands.
      Contracting for first units would use an EPC Turnkey approach as is the basis of the current contracts in Egypt, Pakistan, Bangladesh, UAE, Hungry, Finland, Belarus, Turkey, etc. But that, as with many more answers I have for you, is currently available and operating and not bound by your stark limitations as stated. Given the opportunity, I will return. All best.

      • incomprehensible. Or is it written for an ‘in-crowd’?

        Surely the COST of nuclear – for a utility that is unable to repay its current debt – is sufficient reason not to support it?
        Let alone the incompetence of Eskom to reliably run anything these days? Since Eskom subscribes to the cadre-deployment policies of its Master, the ANC. The risks associated with incompetence with respect to nuclear plants is orders of magnitude greater than for any other energy generation technology, and Chernobyl showed only too clearly the dangers of nuclear technology in the hands of ideological zealots.

        • Hi Caroline. ….. for the “in crowd” you state? Written for anybody who wants to get the scientific facts and counter prevalent car-park folklore. You are welcome aboard.
          To begin, you are totally unreasonable to compare the total operational and running costs of Koeberg with the more recent history and total lack of capability shown at ESKOM, which I agree is in a debt death trap as a entirety. This, apart from as demonstrated on the Koeberg site, where one is not allowed to “play around with politics but demanding qualified competence” and as a result it remains the true economic “cash cow” of the total generating capacity. Go check it out, including the welcome fact that its lifetime will be extended to 60 years officially as it nears 40 years of class competent performance.
          Regarding safety, the nuclear code has maintained an excellent top safety record while wind construction and servicing has alone cost the lives, by 2018, of 142 technicians. (Some more since!) Do you want the International figures for all energy sources and you will be surprised. Go look it up!Interesting. Nuclear has the top safety level way ahead of wind, solar and hydro, which has just suffered another loss of many lives through dam failure.

          As to Chernobyl, let me remind you that its main rasion d’etre, was that of producing Plutonium for their bomb production in the 1970’s. The Model RBMK 3900 (there were some 16 of them in all) was a “weapons reactor” thereby demanding fast access to the core region (every 2 days from the top to extract the active Pu-239 from successive fuel elements.) and therefore in no way satisfied the International Codes of safety. The accident was human operator driven and I agree that in this section, the Russian Team were extremely lax when carrying out a sensitive, but non-standard, test routine.They had taken over control of the reactor operating code to allow them to alter running conditions in short deviating tests over a defined period of 2 to 3 days and “took a short cut”. This was a doubly sensitive state that was driven to disaster by human haste in an inherently unsafe state. As an aside, it also serviced standard power to the grid and Pripyat as an ancillary energy source. I have visited Kiev and the site and am closely aware of the International findings on this accident which is important and associated loss of life. This while you choose to treat it as a throw away triviality line but to be of relevance to the S.A. Grid future? Let me quote you- “The risks associated with incompetence with respect to nuclear plants is orders of magnitude greater than for any other energy generation technology”. I have had the responsibility for having a small (20 MW ) Research Reactor and have an in depth knowledge of safety in nuclear matters. You are blatantly wrong in this very clear statement of “pseudo-fact”. Caroline, please, you are welcome aboard to find out much, much, much more about avoiding humbug reporting and writing.

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