Energy experts opening the eight annual Atom conferences in Moscow, Russia have warned that developing countries looking to use nuclear energy should consider radioactive waste before signing any agreement.
Russia has over the past few years seen an increase in corporations and partnerships with developing countries on nuclear energy programmes- with some using their technology to build nuclear plants.
A few African countries have recently shown keen interest in developing and building nuclear reactors.
This week Russia will sign memorandum of understanding (MOU) with three African countries on nuclear development.
This includes Kenya, Nigeria and Zambia. Russia is steadily seeing an interest in nuclear partnership from various African countries and countries in South East Asia.
Mikhail Chudakov is Deputy Director General of IAE-a company that helps to create the necessary infrastructure for nuclear waste.
Chudakov says although Russia is seeing an increased interest in nuclear partnerships, the partnerships should be done with caution
“More important is that developing nations are planning to include energy in their energy mix but you should remember that it should be developed on the safety culture.”
Zambia is in early discussions with Russia to include nuclear as part of its energy mix.
Kenya is also another African country considering the use of nuclear energy. It plans to build its first nuclear reactor by 2024.
The country already has an established Nuclear Energy Body. Joseph Muthari is a Kenyan member of parliament.
“Yes, we want to establish a working relationship with the team here in Moscow because in Kenya we have a target of at least 2017 – we should have started producing nuclear energy.”
“Kenya is a growing nation and we want to be a country that is able to satisfy the energy needs. And it is important that we diversify our energy source. We are already involved in the training of our personnel so we have students here in Moscow and also students being trained in Korea. African countries are also coming up the demand for electricity is growing the demand is growing.”
Ghana signed an MOU with the state atomic energy corporation of Russia (ROSATOM) in 2015.
Ghana Atomic Energy Commission Benjamin Nyarko says: “Africa has a problem with energy and the best way for Africa to be able to resolve that issue is to go for nuclear power.”
“Waste management in the nuclear power programme has been the main issue that we have had to address so when we are dealing with waste structures we should be able to deal with the waste and when you’re signing an agreement you should open your eyes well. Financing is also a big problem for Africa.”
Over 45 countries are actively considering embarking upon nuclear power programmes.
This ranges from sophisticated economies to developing nations. The front runners include the UAE, Turkey, Vietnam, and Poland.
In 2016, Atom expo attracted 4.5 000 people from 55 countries across the world.
According to Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson, the South African government has entered into a nuclear energy procurement process likely to be completed as early as 2016. So far, South Africa has signed Intergovernmental Framework Agreements on nuclear co-operation with Russia, France, China, South Korea and the US.
The agreement with Russia is very advanced compared to the others. This leads to the assumption that the procurement process will result in risky Russian reactors with a total capacity of 9.6 GW.
The risk of nuclear power to South Africa comes from the high costs of nuclear construction. It also comes with decommissioning nuclear plants, and safety concerns regarding the Russian nuclear industry.
Nuclear energy is expensive
Today, a 1000 MWt reactor costs at least US$6 billion. But the real question is, does nuclear technology produce cheap electricity? Two recent South African studies have found that nuclear generated electricity will be more expensive than the electricity generated by new coal plants, solar photovoltaic panels and wind.
The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research projects the levelised cost of electricity from nuclear power to be R1/kWh, R0.80/kWh from new coal, R0.80/kWh from solar photo voltaic, and R0.60/kWh from wind in today’s prices.
Analysis by another South African institute also projects that the levelised cost of nuclear energy to be higher than most other technologies. Both studies are inclusive of capital‚ finance‚ maintenance and fuel costs.
As the projected costs of electricity reveal, committing to a nuclear future now is senseless. A report by a Swiss-based banking firm claimed:
We believe solar will eventually replace nuclear and coal, and be established as the default technology of the future to generate and supply electricity.
Africa joins the renewable revolution
145 countries, including African ones, have introduced various policies in support of renewable energy generation. Next year Kenya will increase its renewable capacity by 1.4 GW and will generate more than half of its required electricity from solar plants by 2016.
It is projected that Kenyans will enjoy electricity at a rate 80% cheaper than current costs once the project is complete.
Even Ethiopia has plans to install 570 MW worth of geothermal and wind capacity. South Africa also has approved large amounts of money dedicated to renewable energy projects. Investment in renewables in Africa is expected to exceed US$7 billion by 2016.
The future doesn’t look good for nuclear
Despite the nuclear industry’s enormous state funding and political support, the contribution of nuclear to the world’s primary energy production has dropped from 8% in 2000 to around 4.4% in 2014.
The reason behind the decline in nuclear power across the world is simple. Most nuclear reactors currently operating were built back in the 1960s and 1970s. These old reactors were designed for a lifespan of 30 to 40 years. Although some have been granted renewed licenses to operate for another one or two decades, nuclear reactors are not eternal and most now require decommissioning.
Decommissioning requires clean-up of radioactive wastes and demolition of nuclear plants. Because it involves high-level radioactive wastes, it is hazardous for workers and the environment. It is also time intensive. The costs of decommissioning depends on the technology. Some of the radioactive wastes will remain dangerous for thousands of years.
Limited experience with nuclear decommissioning exists around the world and cost overruns are common issue in this field. The UK authorities estimated the cost of decommissioning for 19 existing nuclear sites at £100 billion in 2012.
According to a report, more than 200 of the world’s nuclear reactors will reach the end of their designed operation lifetime by 2030. Decommissioning these old reactors can be as expensive as construction costs.
The decommissioning programme in France alone is estimated at €300 billion, and this cost will likely escalate further.
Accidents are a very real threat
Russia and the previous Soviet Union has experienced many problems as a consequence of nuclear power development. The largest nuclear accident in the history of humankind, the reactor explosion at Chernobylin 1986 is infamous across the world. According to the latest scientific data, more than one million people in different countries were affected by this catastrophe.
Before Chernobyl, a lesser-known accident occurred at the Mayak nuclear facility in South Urals. A tank containing radioactive waste exploded resulting in about 20,000 square kilometres of contaminated territory and the forced resettlement of 10,000 local residents. Thousands of locals were sent to clean up the radioactive mess, including2000 pregnant women.
The Mayak disaster happened in the late 1950s, but the world only became aware of it 30 years later. Despite the disaster, the nuclear facility at Mayak continued to dump radioactive waste from it’s spent fuel reprocessing operations into the nearby Techa river up until at least 2005. There are thousands of local residents living there until today. To date, the Russian nuclear industry has yet to accept full responsibility for the damage done at Mayak.
It is not only Russian nuclear industry which had terrible nuclear accidents. Reactors were melting in Fukushima in Japan; Three Mile Island in the US; Sellafield in the UK. There are dozens of smaller but still very dangerous events. But Russian industry definitely occupies one of the top places in this list.
From this, it is no surprise that when the agreement was signed between South Africa and Russia, this clause was included:
In the case of a nuclear accident, South Africa will accept all of the liability.
Russian nuclear federation Rosatom has launched a large public relations campaign in South Africa with the intention of convincing the public that nuclear power is the solution to the electricity crisis. Rosatom’s campaign makes use of several well-known nuclear lobbyists and deliberately misrepresents key information, such as the real cost of nuclear power and the status of the global nuclear industry.
The Nkandla scandal is a drop in the ocean compared with the pending Russian nuclear deal. South African civil society must take a stand now towards the future it wants before it is too late.
Some parts of our world are already being delivered into a new industrial revolution, but this revolution is one that will likely pass by South Africa due to our continued reliance on fossil fuels and nuclear energy.
Embracing the forward-thinking technological advancement of the 21st century, the economies of Northern Europe are realigning completely to adapt to new modes of production based on renewable energy. Clean technology is integrating into the digital economy to produce a new industrial model being described as the “third industrial revolution”.
Meanwhile South Africa intends to pursue coal, as the primary source of energy to drive our country’s industrial and economic development. This promises to trap our country in an outmoded model of development harking back to the second industrial revolution of the early 20th century. We are, in fact, being forced into an industrial development model that will struggle to engage with the economies of the North, as this century unfolds. It foreshadows a damning future not just for our economy, but also for our society already lagging behind in skills that will be further out of touch with the demands of the 21st century.
The new economies of the North are completely changing the ways in which people are starting to work and live. You may think I’m referring to the green economy, but the notion of the green economy lacks the conceptual flexibility to completely cover the scope, depth and complexity of this new economy. It’s the green economy and then some.
Author of a book with the same title, Jeremy Rifkin, refers to it as the “Third Industrial Revolution”. It’s about a growing democratisation of
the economy brought about by decentralised manufacturing processes driven by Internet technologies and smart software organised around lateral networks of interest.
At the same time, a report in The Economist argues that smart software and new materials, such as carbon fibre, are changing the way things are being manufactured in the first world. Whereas “identical products” rolled off factory assembly lines in the 20th century, the hallmark of the 21st century’s third industrial revolution is “mass customisation”.
According to The Economist, smaller numbers of tailor-made products are being produced in distributed artisanal industries staffed by a few highly skilled people, such as engineers, IT specialists, designers, and logistics experts using clean manufacturing technologies such as 3D printers.
It’s a decentralised manufacturing environment that is becoming smaller, smarter and more sustainable.
As our world is changing, manufacturing jobs are moving away from the factory floor. The Economist indicates that repetitive low-wage and low-skilled jobs are unsuitable for the third industrial revolution. “Offshore production is increasingly moving back to rich countries not because Chinese wages are rising, but because companies now want to be closer to their customers so that they can respond more quickly to changes in demand,” the publication contends.
American entrepreneur, John B. Rogers describes this new industrial revolution as ecosystems developing around specialised entrepreneurial activities.
Add to this, the changing nature of human interaction. Facilitated by the social media technologies of the Internet, “collaboration” not consumption is the new order of the day. Designers and engineers work collaboratively with customers who make direct inputs towards the development of customised products in what is being described as the “Internet of things”. In this world, 3D printing is upheld as the new frontier for high-skilled clean tech manufacturing.
Renewable energy is a key driver behind the third industrial revolution. And just as manufacturing is becoming decentralised, so too are sources of renewable energy. In stark contrast to centralised utility companies that control access to energy, the revolution is being driven by small producers creating energy that feeds into the grid.
There are multitudes of renewable energy co-ops popping up all over the northern hemisphere where members are not just consumers, but also own the companies that generate their electricity. Another decentralised model involves municipal level companies controlled by citizens. According to the Heinrich Böll Foundation, Germany has in the region of 900 energy stadtwerke, which are municipal level utility companies. Sixty-percent of Germany’s energy stadtwerke provide renewable energy because that’s what citizens want.
Germany is in fact being billed as the first serious contender in the third industrial revolution because of its decentralised renewable energy sector and economy built on highly skilled small-scale manufacturers.
Clean and digital technologies are disruptive. The traditional manufacturing sector is not the only one at risk. Forbes magazine reports that the banking sector is also at risk of becoming obsolete in this revolution. New finance is making an appearance on the Internet through initiatives such as Google Wallet and Apple Pay, leading to the tech companies now registering as financial institutions, as they have access to millions of subscribers.
South Africa is falling far behind the third industrial revolution because of our government’s stubborn support for the fossil fuel industry. Speaking at a panel discussion hosted by SACSIS and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) on May 25, commissioner on the National Planning Commission (NPC), Tasneem Essop, a low carbon advocate at the World Wildlife Fund candidly pointed out that South Africa’s energy policy is driven by vested interests in the minerals-energy-complex. She reported that South Africa is spending very little on renewable energy compared to planned expenditure on fossil fuels such as coal and gas — not to mention the fact that our nation is being plunged into the nightmare of perpetual debt with our government’s plan to build a new nuclear power plant.
To remain globally relevant, many in this country already agree that we need a highly skilled workforce, but where consensus still lacks is on the significance of building a new economy based on renewable energy and clean technologies. This requires a nationwide commitment to renewable energy. And as the public we must be careful that the solutions being presented to us are genuine and not just “greenwash” emanating from official sources. On May 29, minister in the presidency, Jeff Radebe reportedly said, “Our independent power producer programme (IPP) is the most exciting and biggest in the world.” While the minister may be excited, the barriers to entry into the renewable energy sector are extremely high for independent, especially small producers.
The IPP programme, supports independent power producers, including but not limited to those with an interest in renewable energy. Not only are IPP’s required to bid for projects in South Africa’s renewable energy sector, they must also hold significant funds as surety, argued Ferrial Adam, energy expert from the NGO 350.org who also spoke at the panel discussion hosted by SACSIS and FES. Adam argued further that as a consequence of government’s poor commitment, just 8% of South Africa’s energy would come from renewable sources by the year 2030.
Compare this to a country like Denmark, which presently already generates 43% of its energy from renewable sources.
Notwithstanding the need to keep abreast of international development trends, the South African government is simply ignoring the memo on the impact of fossil fuels on climate change.
Whilst SACSIS learned last Monday that South Africa is planning to build 28 new coal fired power stations in the Waterberg region alone, the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund was getting ready to announce its plan to divest US$900 billion from coal, due to the fossil fuel’s impact on climate change. Earlier this year, the fund also announced that it had divested from 51 coal companies in 2014.
It is clear that the energy policy developed by our government is not driven by any moral imperative to take care of the people of South Africa.
Environmental sociologist Dr. David Fig argues:
“Because renewables raise the possibility of decentralised energy, of spreading power, in both senses, out of centralised control, of using the technology to empower many more people on the ground and of offsetting higher bills by consumers returning unused power to the grid. This is in conflict with a utility like Eskom and with municipalities that want to sell more electricity, not less.”
South Africa is standing at a fork in the road. But we’re facing the wrong direction. This time we won’t be able to blame our misfortune on slavery, colonialism or apartheid.
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The South African government has signed agreements with vendor countries to develop its Nuclear New Build Programme and has concluded the pre-procurement phase of the programme.
As part of expanding the nuclear new build programme and developing a sustainable energy mix, the energy department of the South African government has conducted a series of vendor workshops with seven countries namely Canada, China, France, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the USA. These nations use technology that is similar to South Africa, such as the pressurised water reactor nuclear technology, which can be seen at the Koeberg Nuclear Power Plant in Western Cape.
The South African government has signed Inter-Governmental Framework Agreements (IGFA) with Russia, China, France, USA and South Korea, while agreements with Canada and Japan are at an advanced stage and will be completed soon, said government officials.
According to the agreements, each country can contribute to and engage with South Africa’s nuclear new build programme.
An official from the South African energy department said, “The government continues to make significant progress in its engagements with various prospective nuclear vendor countries as part of the process towards the implementation of the expansion of the nuclear new build programme, as required for energy security based on a sustainable energy mix. The National Development Plan enjoins us to do thorough investigations on various aspects of the nuclear power generation programme before a procurement decision is taken. These policy prescripts are meant to add 9,600MW of electricity to the national electricity grid and ensure that we keep the lights on in a sustainable manner.”
Over the last six months, 80 South African nuclear experts have carefully analysed each technological offering for the vendor countries during the pre-procurement phase. At the end of the process, every vendor country presented unique proposals to implement the nuclear new build programme, which will support the government’s decision to develop a transparent, fair, cost effective and competitive procurement process for selecting a strategic partners to implement the programme.
The procurement process will be presented for approval by the Energy Security Cabinet Subcommittee and endorsed by the Cabinet, with the aim of getting the first unit commissioned by 2023 and the last unit by 2030.
Source: African Review
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The raging debate over the suitability of nuclear energy is typical of South Africa’s flawed approach to energy policy. We are driven by desperation to consider alternatives rather than being proactive and acting strategically to optimise outcomes.
The Eskom debacle has forced the government to consider other options such as gas in addition to nuclear – just like the sale of state assets is driven by the need to bail out Eskom rather than economic policy. Invariably, we ask the wrong questions and then proceed to provide the most precise answers to them.
The strategic energy policy question is not whether nuclear energy is better than renewable energy or vice versa. The question is: what is the optimal energy mix for South Africa that will best address our economic development challenges? Any optimisation problem relies on the formulation of the objective function and the constraints imposed on it. While some are fuzzy on the objective function, they seem clear that we can either have nuclear, wind or solar, and nothing else.
My argument is that there are other alternatives to be considered in the energy mix. Firstly, the strategic envelope for the analysis of our energy policy should be the Southern African Development Community (SADC), not the Republic of South Africa, given that there are significant energy sources outside South Africa, with South Africa being a massive energy sink. The DRC has hydro energy resources, Botswana has coal resources, Mozambique and, to a lesser extent, Namibia have significant natural gas resources. It is also unclear why our own coal resources are not in the future energy mix, given our relative size to massive coal burners such as China and India.
Back to the objective function: what do we want to achieve through our energy policy? The goals of an energy policy should include competitively priced energy, energy security, supply stability, minimal environmental impact, employment creation, and positive transformative impact on the overall economy. One could use the current energy mix as a base case to compare alternative mix options, including all the energy sources mentioned above.
We have not even considered importing Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) as an alternative or local hydraulic fracking. We could divert all our thermal energy demand to LNG and simultaneously use LNG to provide feedstock to the PetroSA GTL plant. That would reduce our electricity demand and also make sure we sweat an existing investment at the Mossgas plant.
At face value, it seems a nuclear plant investment will have less positive transformative effect on the overall economy.
We need a breath of fresh air in this energy policy debate. This is too important an issue for South Africa’s future to be driven by sector specific interests.
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Talking millions and billions
However, he says that nuclear power is not economically viable due to high costs needed to construct and maintain plants. “The cost to build a nuclear power station varies in each country. In the United States for example, a nuclear reactor could cost around $10 billion and repairs can also amount to millions of dollars. At the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in Arizona in the US, last year, a leak inside the reactor cost $10 million to $15 million to repair. Solar farms on the other hand, are far more economical as the cost to build ranges between $300 million and $500 million and all that is needed is a large piece of land which receives a vast amount sunlight.”
Furthermore, Chien says that the running costs of electricity generated by a nuclear power plant are far higher than electricity generated from photovoltaic solar energy, as nuclear power plants run throughout the day and night, and according to the Brookings Institution, an American research NGO, they are 75% more expensive to build and run per MW of capacity than a solar-power plant.
Therefore continuing to operate nuclear plants prevents the large-scale integration of renewable energy into the electricity grid.” Chien refers to research conducted by Greenpeace, which states that nuclear also channels investment away from renewables where investment can make a difference in fighting climate change and that renewables can replace several times more of the carbon that is leading to climate change – for the same cost as nuclear and at a far faster pace.
Health and environmental risks
Chien adds that the health and environmental risks associated with nuclear power are also extremely high, especially for those who work in and live in close proximity to plants. “Nuclear power produces toxic waste which can be detrimental to people’s health, as well as the environment. Furthermore, the risk of a nuclear accident like that of the Fukushima meltdown exists and it is crucial to consider because of the effects, including increased levels of radiation in the area and contaminated food and water.”
“An indication that South Africa is heading in the right direction to overcome the energy crisis by means of an environmentally friendly, safer and more economical way, includes the rollout of Kalkbult solar plant in the Northern Cape, a Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme project, which can already produce enough electricity to be consumed by approximately 33 000 households, lessening the carbon footprint in the area,”
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The South African government has been holding vendor workshops with countries it could potentially partner with for its nuclear build programme, the Presidency said in a statement on Wednesday. This marks “significant progress” for the government in its engagements with various prospective nuclear vendor countries as part of the process towards the implementation of the expansion in the nuclear new build programme, the statement said. Intergovernmental framework agreements have been signed with Russia, France, China, South Korea and the US, marking the “initiation of the preparatory stage for the procurement process”, the Presidency said. Delegations from these countries have presented technology they believe would best suit local conditions at these workshops, held during October and November. The vendor workshops form part of the government’s technical investigation “in preparation for a procurement decision”, the Presidency said.
Future energy mix
Potential vendors have had to show how they would best meet the 9 600MW (9,6 GW) threshold that the South African government has set for the country’s future energy mix.The countries all have pressurized water reactor nuclear technology, which is similar to that used at the Koeberg nuclear power plant in the Western Cape.”South Africa has been safely using this technology for the past 30 years,” Mac Maharaj, the President’s spokesperson, said. Senior technical government officials, representatives from state-owned entities in the energy field, as well as academics involved in nuclear and engineering programmes attended the workshops, leading to “robust and open discussions” with vendors, Maharaj said. Guidelines for the expansion of nuclear power to ensure energy security based on a sustainable energy mix have been set out in the National Development Plan, the Nuclear Energy Policy, the Nuclear Energy Act and the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) adopted in 2011. Under the NDP, the government is required to do a thorough technical investigation before making a procurement decision.The Presidency said its commitment to nuclear energy would be accompanied by the commitment to a “procurement process that is in line with the country’s legislation and policies”. “The nuclear new build programme will create a massive infrastructure development, thus stimulating the economy and enabling the country to create thousands of high- quality jobs for engineers, scientists, artisans, technicians and various other professions, develop skills and create sustainable industries, and catapult the country into a knowledge economy,” said Maharaj.
Source: South Africa.info