Why SA shouldn’t be too quick to drop nuclear from its energy mix

Nuclear Energy

In the Budget on February 21 the South African government is likely to announce the clear way forward for the on again, off again, nuclear deal that the experts say the country needs and the critics say will bankrupt the country.

Former President Jacob Zuma caused uproar, in his time, by announcing the nuclear deal.  The plan is to build at least 9600 MW of nuclear power with a number of stations around the country. Russia is one of the nations that South Africa is looking to for the technology. South Africa is already home to Africa’s only nuclear power plant, the 41-year-old Koeberg near the beach just outside Cape Town, which has an installed capacity of 1800 MW and produced its first electricity in 1984. Cape Town is one of the few cities in the world to be powered entirely by nuclear energy.

In Davos at the World Economic Forum, in January, Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba told CNBC Africa that the deal was off the table.

“We have excess electricity and therefore are not under pressure, for the moment, if you look at the excess power we have it is bigger than the biggest power station we have in South Africa we have right now, which is Medupi, which basically means we are supplying ourselves on a sustainable base into the future. When we feel we now need electricity baseload electricity generation that can be supplied by the capacity of a nuclear power station then we will have a discussion at that moment. But at the present moment there are no plans on the table for the foreseeable future,” Malusi said.

Yet the experts argue this is folly. Kelvin Kemm, a nuclear physicist and the chairman of the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation, argues that the country needs to build its power grid for the future.

“Right now South Africa appears to have sufficient electricity, but that is rather false impression.  Projections of some 10 to 15 years ago showed that South Africa should have been using much more electricity now than is actually the case.  The country is artificially using too little now, in the sense that economic growth has been held back, and the electricity shortages of a few years ago prevented planned industrial expansion,” says Kemm.

The cost is also in dispute. Opposition parties say it’ll cost the taxpayer a trillion rand. Kemm says research shows the price tag to be a mere R650 billion.

The new nuclear power plants will be built by South Africa and South Africans, in collaboration with a foreign nuclear reactor supplier.  A model, in which South Africa is a world leader, is the construction and export of a number of well-known foreign motor cars.  They are built by South Africans, to a foreign design, in collaboration with the foreign design owner.

No foreign workers will pour concrete and erect steel structures for the building of a nuclear power complex.  The same goes for most of the other functions in the building of a nuclear power plant,” says Kemm.