Nuclear not feasible in a corrupt environment – expert

Cape Town – Nuclear energy cannot be developed in a corrupt environment. Yet persistent concerns about its feasibility are based in "propaganda", according to energy expert Des Muller.

Muller, director of NuEnergy Developments, was speaking at African Utility Week in Cape Town on Thursday.

"It is good to have a debate about nuclear energy and, yes, corruption is a big issue in this regard. Therefore, the nuclear programme must be procured in the most transparent environment," he said. "Nuclear cannot be built and developed successfully in a corrupt environment."

Furthermore, he said, it "must be procured for the right reasons".

A mix of energy sources would make the country's energy platform more reliable, he argued. "If South Africa could continue developing renewable energy, gas and nuclear, the country would have a very stable energy platform going forward."

Muller emphasised the importance of such a stable energy platform for the future, voicing his concerns about Eskom's latest claims of excess energy capacity.

"South Africa can afford nuclear energy," he said. "Many studies show nuclear energy is the cheapest – it just depends how you do it," said Muller.

"Nuclear plants are expensive to build. You want safe nuclear plants, but because of the safety systems, it comes at a cost. At the same time it generates a lot of electricity – clean energy with low operating and maintenance costs."

A useful way to look at nuclear cost, in his view, is not to count the cost of the "cow" (building the nuclear plant), but at how much you will pay for a "litre of milk" (the electricity generated).

He added that a nuclear plant would not be built if one did not know what to do with the waste – of which there would not be a lot, as much can be reprocessed into new tech fuels.

"We [must] deal with the nuclear issue responsibly. The nuclear industry has all the facts needed. It is very transparent. Get the facts and not the lot of propaganda out there.

"If you see where the propaganda comes from you will understand why," said Muller.

He did not stipulate the source of this "propaganda" against nuclear energy in South Africa.

Muller estimates building the first two nuclear units in South Africa holds localisation potential of 40%. In his view, there are many funding options for such a project.

"They say it takes too long to build nuclear plants – 8 to 10 years – but that is good, as it will give people work for that period. Nuclear has the highest employment density and brings the most competitive price," he said.

"We want two nuclear plants online by 2029 or 2030. We need to create an enabling environment with the right partners."

In his view, the South African public were denied the chance of being informed that nuclear is not as expensive as it is made out to be.

"We want to take part meaningfully in the nuclear build programme. If vendors were allowed to put proposals on the table, it would have cleared up many misconceptions about nuclear and the cost thereof," he said.

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