Eskom chair: Outa's nuke take lacks substance

Dr Ben Ngubane.
Dr Ben Ngubane.

Dr Ben Ngubane, chairperson of Eskom, responds to an opinion piece by Outa’s chairperson Wayne Duvenage titled “What Brian Molefe did not say in his defence of the Guptas and nuclear”, published on 29 July 2016.

RELATED: SA can’t afford nuclear build on top of Medupi - Outa

Contrary to Mr Duvenage’s contention that nuclear energy is on a decline, the world is actually increasingly moving towards nuclear power. Current projections indicate that nuclear will provide over 1 000 GW of power by 2050 from its current level of 396 GW. This will be generated not only by existing users of nuclear power plants but increasingly by new entrants that are finding the relatively cheaper financial and environmental cost of nuclear power attractive.

In order to generate this 1 000 GW, there is an expected increase in the number and size of nuclear power plants from the current 450 commercial nuclear reactors operating in 30 countries. There are 65 nuclear power plants currently under construction. The aspiration is to increase nuclear energy contribution in the energy mix from the current 11% to 25% of global power.

Construction is also taking place in the United Arab Emirates and Belarus and they are constructing their first nuclear power plants. It is fundamental to note that at least 15 countries that did not have any nuclear power plant activities are starting to pursue nuclear power strategies including Poland, Turkey, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Malaysia, Jordan, Nigeria, Egypt, Ghana, Namibia, Zambia, Saudi Arabia, Cambodia, and Libya.

READ: ‘We are humbly the best’ - nuclear firm Rosatom

South Africa’s nuclear energy aspiration is therefore in line with this global trend. Nuclear energy currently accounts for over 4% of the South Africa’s power supply. To this extent, South Africa has committed to building new nuclear power plants in its bid to increasingly diversify its energy mix to lower carbon emissions as required under COP21 energy targets, and in order to generate cheaper electricity and thereby further stimulate economic growth. As such, South Africa targets generation of 9.6 GW of nuclear power by 2030 which will be rolled out in chunks that can be sustainably afforded.

In order to fulfil this 9.6GW ambition, government has appointed the Department of Energy (and not Eskom as Mr Duvenage mistakenly believes) as the procuring agent and Eskom as the owner-operator of new nuclear power plants.

READ: Why are Africans afraid of nuclear energy, asks Molefe

In the interim, Eskom recently launched a programme to train 100 artisans, technicians and engineers as nuclear operators in preparation for the future build. On average, it takes six years to train a nuclear reactor operator. Eskom is also committed to enrolling 3 to 5 nuclear engineering PhD candidates every year. This demonstrates Eskom’s determination to ensure that the relevant world-class capabilities are developed internally and to deepen knowledge in this key subject matter.

ANALYSIS: The cost of nuclear electricity in SA

Of utmost importance is nuclear safety. Koeberg's hardware has been upgraded to have a level of safety equal to the current safety standard for new power plants. The latter is an ever-improving standard, so further safety improvements are being implemented and planned on a continuous basis.

Therefore despite the debate, Eskom has taken up the challenge and is proactively gearing itself up to own and operate an expanded nuclear fleet. This will reduce the cost of electricity for everyday consumers and minimise our carbon footprint.

Eskom's nuclear track record speaks for itself and the increased continuous nuclear development of leadership creates a sense of comfort, not complacency, that our government was correct in appointing Eskom as the owner-operator of the new proposed nuclear plant.

READ: Environmentalists: SA did sign nuclear deal with Russia

The World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO), which is dedicated to improving nuclear safety standards, has committed to support Eskom and the country in expanding nuclear power. According to WANO, the model for having Eskom as the owner-operator is preferred.

Not only does this give WANO an experienced nuclear utility to interface with but this also places nuclear accountability firmly in the hands of a stable state-owned company. In their opinion this is a better approach, than the concept of a foreign or privately owned nuclear fleet. In this approach, the accountability for nuclear safety is clear and more readily understood by all parties, including WANO.

Koeberg is also the only nuclear training facility recognised by WANO outside of Europe and the US. This international recognition further validates the rightful trust that South Africa has placed in Eskom. Therefore Eskom has demonstrated its competence and has proven to be the most appropriate owner-operator to run South Africa’s nuclear fleet.

READ: Anti-nuclear group questions nuclear report

As far as the alleged “attack on the media” is concerned, Eskom’s Group Chief Executive Brian Molefe did apologise for the manner in which he spoke to EE Publisher’ Managing Director, Mr Chris Yelland. Mr Molefe’s apology was made during a media briefing, in much the same way as the alleged attack was made. Indeed a true leader is one who is humble enough to admit their mistakes and learning how to not make them again.

On the closure of the Gupta bank accounts, Eskom has consistently said that there is currently no reason why it should not continue to do business with Oakbay. If we’re furnished with evidence of any illegal acts by the group we shall certainly stop doing business with them. Mr Duvenage seems to have based his fear or hate of the Guptas on rumours and innuendos.

READ: Eskom responds in detail to Gupta coal contract allegations

We challenge Mr Duvenage to report any known or suspected wrongdoing by the Guptas to the law enforcement authorities as required by the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act.

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