NUCLEAR energy is gradually replacing the traditional energy sources in the energy balance of countries. The share of nuclear energy in the global energy balance is currently 11%. Based on a study published by the World Nuclear Association, the share of nuclear energy in the global energy balance will rise to 17% by 2050 to combat global warming.
This is due to the fact that nuclear technologies have reached such a level of development that they are rivaling the traditional methods of energy production based on fossil fuels. Thus, the price volatility in commodity markets today motivate countries to look for alternative energy opportunities. In addition, countries which do not possess substantial mineral resources are dependent on imports from neighbouring countries, which could prove costly and unreliable.
Therefore, the construction of new nuclear power plants are, in many situations, the only viable option for countries wishing to reduce this dependence and to generate an optimal and environmentally-friendly energy mix. It is very important to note that there are zero greenhouse gas emissions during the operation of a nuclear power plant, making it one of the only environmentally-friendly sources of baseload available.
It is true that capital costs of nuclear are rather high, but what is more important to note is the so-called LCOE, which is essentially the cost of electricity over the lifetime of the plant. When one considers that Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) has a life span of roughly 100 years, during 60-80 of which it generates electricity, which happens to be almost double the operational life span of a thermal plants and three times as long as renewables, the cost of electricity generated by NPPs becomes highly competitive.
Wind and solar are also good for SA
The Republic of South Africa has remarkable geographic and climatic features that allow for the active development of solar, wind and tidal energy and there is no denying this is a good solution for many households and farms.
Unfortunately large scale industrial use of these sources is extremely difficult due low net capacity factor of renewables and the lack of solutions for energy storage. Renewables at best have a capacity factor of 25%, which means they only deliver 25% of their actual capacity, whereas modern nuclear has a net capacity factor of 93%.
Thus, the construction of a 4 GW wind power plant requires the area equal to 207 925 football fields. The construction of a nuclear power plant of similar capacity requires an area equal to just 387 football fields.
Regarding the potential hazards, affordability and general quality of Russian nuclear technologies it is important to note that most European countries using nuclear energy cooperate with Russia in the nuclear industry. Today, 18 nuclear reactors of Russian design are operating in five countries in Europe. Russian technology has proven its reliability and safety over the almost 50-year history. In total, Russia-designed VVER reactors have operated more than 1400 reactor years accident-free.
Russia itself has 17% of nuclear generation in the overall energy mix. According to forecasts, this share could reach 30% by 2030. In total, there are 34 nuclear power units in commercial operation in Russia. And we are building nine more, many ahead of schedule like power unit No 3 at Rostov NPP, which was commissioned last year.
Good safety record
Projects based on Russian NPP technologies meet all contemporary requirements of the world nuclear community set out in the IAEA safety standards. Another important guarantee of the safety of NPPs based on Russian technology is the long-term trouble-free operational experience. According to reliability criterion of nuclear power plants, Russia ranks second in the world among countries with developed nuclear power, ahead of countries such as the US, UK and Germany.
Safety and reliability of Russian nuclear power plants are evidenced by the results of regular inspections conducted by independent authorities (Rostekhnadzor – the Federal Service for Environmental, Technological, and Nuclear Supervision) and international organisations (WANO: World Association of Nuclear Operators, IAEA, OSART and others).
The inspections held by the Rostekhnadzor in 2013 and 2014 did not reveal any incident that could lead to radioactive contamination or damage from radioactive materials. Over the last five years, no serious safety violation classified higher than first level as per INES international scale INES (International Nuclear Event Scale) have been recorded at Russian NPPs.
The world practice to ensure the safe operation of nuclear facilities, which is supported by the IAEA, is that the state that has made a decision to develop nuclear power, takes over responsibility to ensure its safety. International organizations have developed the standards that all organizations involved in the process must adhere to.
Rosatom as a responsible and potential vendor provides a guarantee on all supplies of equipment and nuclear fuel and is willing to assist in the development of nuclear infrastructure in all areas. It should be noted that Russia complies with all international agreements on safe generation and use of nuclear energy, including 1963 Vienna Convention "Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage". This Convention clearly defines the limits of the plant operator’s maximum financial liability for nuclear damage. They (the limits) shall be established by Member States, but are set not less than a certain amount.
Assurance of nuclear and radiation safety is one of the main functions assigned by the state to the Rosatom Corporation. Rosatom attaches great importance to the development of new methods for the treatment and storage of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste as well as new methods for the rehabilitation of contaminated areas. If Rosatom implements a project for the construction of nuclear power plants using our fuel, we are also willing to conclude a contract for spent fuel management by offering a variety of solutions, starting from the construction of the repository to the return of spent nuclear fuel to Russia for recycling.
Rosatom has a 70-year old history and is now the world leader in the nuclear industry. Rosatom ranks first in the world in terms of the construction of nuclear power plants abroad with construction projects for 29 power units in Europe, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region, and nine power units in Russia, which are at different stages of implementation.
Rosatom makes up 17% of world nuclear market
Last year we finished two reactor units, one in Rostov and another in India. This year three will be commissioned. Rosatom takes up 17% of the world market of nuclear fuel fabrication (78 power units in 15 countries) and almost 50% of the uranium enrichment services market.
Rosatom stock of orders include projects with different options of financial solutions. The project funding may be provided in the framework of intergovernmental agreements, either through export credit or public credit from the Russian Federation as well as funding from state-owned banks in Russia.
South Africa’s energy needs are estimated to more than double by 2035. Its neighbours, who have in some cases only electrified 5% of the country, will need to more than quadruple their electricity capacity over the coming years if they are to stand any chance of meeting the needs of their growing economies and populations. With the introduction of nuclear energy, South Africa could become wholesaler of electricity to the region.
While the cost implication of a nuclear build programme is important and should not be ignored, the cost of not investing in base load electricity capacity will be far greater. South Africa is ideally suited to further develop nuclear power as a safe, viable and long-term solution to our growing energy demands.
* Viktor Polikarpov is Rosatom's vice-president of sub-Saharan Africa. Opinions expressed are his own.