“Nuclear is South Africa’s only answer to its energy crisis”

Nuclear has to form South Africa’s base load if it wants to avoid an even bigger energy crisis.
Published: Mon 27 Jun 2016

There is currently a great deal of disagreement and debate in South Africa over the viability of the country’s 9,600 MW nuclear build programme which is meant to resolve the country’s energy generation crisis. The goal has been set for 2030. The Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) has determined that as part of the energy mix.  

While some experts are anxious to get to the request for proposals (RFP) stage in the nuclear build plan for South Africa, others are not so sure. For instance, KPMG director and Power – Infrastructure global sector head Anurag Gupta said  the investment case for nuclear was tough because the size and complexity of the projects, as well as the cost uncertainty, are big risks. Apart from revenue uncertainty, regulatory uncertainty, as well as changes in licensing, could also impact on costs, while money has to be set aside for decommissioning. Political risks are another concern.

Then there is the environmental and safety concerns which areshared globally.

Nuclear-clearing the air

We spoke to Knox Msebenzi, Managing Director of the Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa (NIASA), at African Utility Week, who says that there is a great deal of misconception when it comes to nuclear generation and safety. He says that it “feels as if there is a movement which is hell bent on making sure that (nuclear generation) does not happen.” He says: “I think there’s a lot of talk and a lot of noise with the green movement, giving the world the impression that wind and solar can completely replace coal generation and nuclear generation. People actually believe that and these people have not generated a single kilowatt for anybody. They suddenly become experts at telling the world how to provide energy to the world.  This is unfortunate because the people who are responsible for generating tend to be quiet because they are governed by protocol.”

Msebenzi pointed out that a number of nuclear plants are being built around the world and that it is a very viable and safe option for the country. He said that the time for debate around nuclear generation should come to an end as it would help the country resolve its electricity crisis which involves an escalating consumption level and lack of generation.

Nuclear creates solutions for the long term

He points out that any nuclear power plants that are built now will not resolve the country’s current electricity issue since construction can take up to five years. However, he points out that these plants will help in the long term. According to Msebenzi, South Africa will be in a “terrible energy crisis” if nuclear plants are not built now for the future.

When it comes to financial viability, Msebenzi says that  NIASA’s studies have shown that nuclear is very affordable. However, the upfront payments are proving to be a challenge. He explains that the return on investment is usually 20 years and the lifespan of a nuclear power plant is generally 60 years. South Africa’s only operational nuclear power plant, Koeberg station, is 30 years old now.

To overcome the public’s “trust issue” in nuclear, NIASA is reaching out to the public with its various educational  programmes. “NIASA is talking to local communities so that they can have a better understanding of nuclear and especially the opportunities when hosting a plant. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could come up with a plan or a vision of what the next host town will look like? We can show the community drawings of a new suburban area, new schools and shopping centres…” All governmental departments need to work together to build community trust and to showcase what will come about as a result of the plant.

In conclusion, Msebenzi says: “Time is running out so we need to do this as quickly as possible. That’s why there’s more concern in the industry. We are ready and waiting and ready to go.The time for debate is over. Let’s just do it.”