Nuclear Africa conference: nuclear needed for SA’s economic future

 

The Nuclear Africa 2017 Conference, held in Centurion at the end of March 2017, hosted international delegates to show their nuclear wares, discuss the benefits and problems of nuclear power, and advise on South Africa’s nuclear future.

The conference demonstrated the international nature of nuclear power – in vendors, suppliers, regulation and safety oversight. The programme for South Africa’s likely procurement of new nuclear was outlined by Dave Nicholls, chief nuclear officer at Eskom. “Requests for Information” have already gone out for vendors around the world. This will be followed by “Requests for Proposals” and then finally requests for hard bids. Nicholls estimates that contracts will be signed in 2018/19, he said.

South Africa has chosen a good time to embark on nuclear expansion because a new generation of reactors are now coming on line around the world. These “Generation 3” reactors are safer than existing reactors and emphasise simplicity and passive safety; they are designed so that nature rather than human intervention shuts down the reactor safely in the event of an accident. Nicholls stressed that South Africa would not consider any vendor unless it had a “reference station” already built and successfully running. Of the likely vendors, three at the conference displayed such reference stations. These were South Korea with its APR1400 (four such units are now nearing completion in the United Arab Emirates), Russia with its AES 2006 and China with its CAP1400.

If the South Africa’s economy grows at all and industries increase and unemployment decreases, the country will need large amounts of extra electricity. Many coal stations are at the end of life and will need replacing. We now only have two options for baseload electricity (24 hours a day, 365 days a year): coal and nuclear. Solar and wind are very good for off-grid applications but, as has been demonstrated around the world, no good for grid electricity. Coal is polluting and coal power stations can only be sited near the big coal fields. Nuclear can be situated anywhere, near centres of demand and on the coast, where sea water for cooling will save on scarce fresh water.

Des Muller of Group Five said that nuclear expansion would offer huge opportunities for the country in construction, manufacturing, industrialisation, skills development and jobs.

Of special interest to Africa is the development of small modular reactors (SMRs). The electricity grids in most African countries are too small to accommodate the large existing nuclear units but would be well suited to SMRs. One is being developed locally by Steenkampskraal Thorium.

Dr Geoffrey Rothwell, a US professor of economics, showed conclusively that nuclear power is quite affordable. He stressed on assuming the correct cost of capital, which is actually at about 3% real, not the crazily high figures of 8% real or more assumed by anti-nuclear activists.

The final session ended with Tim Yeo, chair of New Nuclear Watch Europe, warning against taking a short term view of electricity demand, emphasising that the country’s future prosperity depends on expanded, reliable electricity supply.

Contact Andrew Kenny, Nuclear Africa, arkenny40@absamail.co.za

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