Nuclear can make 'staggering' contribution to GDP, claims expert

Johannesburg - Nuclear energy is not as expensive as people think and a new build programme can be a significant enabler of economic growth and job creation, says nuclear expert Dr Anthonie Cilliers.

He said ahead of African Utility Week in Cape Town in May that the large 9600MW nuclear programme "has created an impression of a single expensive mega-project, when in fact the purpose of the fleet approach was to drive down costs over time and increase the learning rate".

"This should be broken up into smaller chunks. For example, should two nuclear reactors be added to the current plant at Koeberg, the cost would be no more than the guarantees already provided by Treasury for the current IPP (independent power producers)  programme, while two nuclear reactors would produce more units of electricity per year (and more reliably) than the units on the IPP programme,” he said in an extensive opinion piece sent to Fin24.

He added: “I agree that South Africa’s fiscus is constrained at the moment. I believe this will change and when it does, we need to be prepared. If we cannot afford nuclear new build, we cannot afford any new build.

"We also have to remember that the new IRP (integrated resource plan) has not been gazetted and with an outdated IRP, I find the approval of any energy projects (including nuclear) irrational.”

Nuclear power Africa

Daniel Njoroge Butti, energy economist at the Karatina University in Kenya who will also share his views at African Utility Week, said “nuclear is certainly part of the energy mix in Africa”.

He said there is a definite appetite for investors to fund nuclear energy projects.

Butti admitted that in his view, nuclear energy has significantly high initial costs, but very low operating costs compared with other energy sources like renewable energy, "which has relatively low initial costs and periodical costs involved in operations which eventually become very high".

'We need to replace coal with nuclear'

Cilliers said in South Africa, "the common belief is that we have excess electricity (and) that we do not need nuclear energy in the short term".

"This is a slight misnomer, as the excess electricity stems from the recent high prices which in turn are constraining our economic growth.

"The reality is that South Africa needs more electricity at an affordable cost to support economic growth – for this, an intervention by government is required. We also tend to forget that many of our coal stations are reaching end of life within the next 10 years; we are already seeing the operation and maintenance cost of these plants rising.

"We need to plan to replace these coal plants with nuclear plants, we have no other option.”

According to Cilliers, specialists in South Africa are currently working on a project to determine the macro-economic impact of nuclear build programmes on a country in partnership with the International Atomic Energy Agency and 15 other countries.

"What we are seeing is that the contribution to the GDP from these projects (during construction and operation) is staggering as it becomes an enabler of economic growth and job creation, directly, indirectly and inducing new jobs in other sectors – far more than industries that rely heavily on import and local assembly.”

On the balanced combination of energies, Des Muller of NuEnergy Developments, who is a member of the Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa’s supply chain development sub-committee,  said the energy sector should play a more versatile role by providing safe, reliable, affordable and clean energy for the country.

“This can only be achieved through a balanced combination of thermal, renewable/hydro and nuclear energy," he said.

Muller said sustainable energy systems should also be able to augment South Africa's water supplies, power an imminent electric transport sector and reduce high transmission losses through decentralised power generation at the load centres.

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