Nuclear power still viable for SA's energy mix - industry

South Africa’s nuclear industry will ask government to bring back the 9.6GW of nuclear energy into the country’s energy mix.

Knox Msebenzi, MD of the Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa (Niasa), said the industry had held a workshop on Wednesday to formulate its response to the draft Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 2018, the roadmap for the country’s electricity planning until 2030.

While the former IRP drawn up in 2010 had incorporated 9.6GW of nuclear energy into South Africa’s future energy mix – which translates into about eight power stations – nuclear energy had been dropped entirely from the new draft IRP2018 released for public comment in August.

“We believe the IRP 2010 was a good benchmark with 9.6GW. It should be more,” Msebenzi said after the workshop.

While many have welcomed the absence of nuclear power in the IRP2018, largely because of its huge expense and allegations about corruption in the government’s proposed nuclear deal with Russia, Knox dismissed these concerns and said the industry believed nuclear power was still the most viable option.

He said the workshop had shown that the IRP’s economic modeling on the “least cost” scenario for electricity generation had been faulty.

“We punched holes in that one,” he said.

The industry workshop believed the methodology in the Department of Energy’s (DoE) modeling for the least-cost scenario had not taken into account all aspects of costs, including socio-economic costs.

It had also not considered real costs of energy over time.

“If you buy an item an item for R10 and it lasts a week, and you buy another for R20 and it lasts 20 weeks, it is clear which costs less. The IRP confuses price with true costs.”

The nuclear industry’s submission to the DoE, which has called for public comment on the draft IRP2018, would address what the industry considered flawed analyses regarding costs of the different technologies. This would show nuclear to be cost effective, he said.

Knox said the nuclear industry was not against renewable energy or gas, and welcomed them into the mix, but believed for South Africa to kill off the nuclear industry would be bad for the country and may slow down the local medical nuclear industry.

If the IRP brought back the 9.6GW into the electricity mix, he said it would attract industries to set up shop in South Africa and stimulate a nuclear supply chain industry.

Knox said there were a variety of nuclear technologies available, including the small modular reactors.

The funding on South Africa’s Pebble Bed Modular Reactor project, which cost around R11bn over about a decade, was stopped before it produced any reactors.

This week Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene testified in the Zondo Commission into state corruption that former president Jacob Zuma had pressured him to sign a nuclear deal with Russia that would have had profound economic consequences for South Africa for decades to come.

 Nene believes his refusal to comply, in the absence of any funding model or feasibility study, was one of the reasons Zuma fired him.

But Knox said issues of corruption were a governance issue.

“One cannot blame a technology for bad governance. As a nation we can’t say: ‘We can’t have a certain technology because we are scared certain people are going to be corrupt’. If that is the case, remove the corrupt people.”

Asked how corruption could be avoided if it may involve a president of the country, Know replied: “Well, he’s gone now, isn’t he?”

The DoE never made public the cost of the government’s proposed nuclear expansion programme of 9.6GW, nor how it would be funded.

Nene said in this testimony this week that in the absence of any funding model or feasibility study, his Treasury staff had looked at possible of costs if the programme were broken down into “sizable chunks”, taking into account the exchange rate at the time.

They calculated that 2.4GW of nuclear power, about a quarter of the proposed programme, would cost R250bn.

Asked at the commission if that would mean the entire 9.6GW could exceed one trillion rand, Nene replied: “It could have.”

Asked what the implications of this would be on the country, Nene replied: “Our concern was that the recovery of the nuclear build programme through the tariff would have had profound consequences for the economy and South African users of electricity.”

Makoma Lekalakala of Earthlife Africa, one of the two organisations who took President Zuma and others to court and got the nuclear deal scrapped as it had not followed due process, said she doubted that the industry would succeed in getting nuclear power back into the IRP at this stage.

“The odds are against them. The draft IRP has said nuclear should be considered only after 2030 and after feasibility studies have been done. We can’t afford it and it is not the least cost option,” Lekalakala said.

“And if we have no money to build it, are we going to be indebted to countries like Russia?”

The public has until October 28 to submit written responses to the IRP.

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