Tom Blees, president of the Science Council for Global Initiatives, offers his opinion on the topic of nuclear presence in South Africa
South Africa’s current debate over deploying nuclear power is taking place at a time when similar discussions are going on in many countries around the world. Accessibility to global communication is leading people around the world to understand that social justice demands the opportunity for everyone to have a standard of living comparable to what the so-called developed countries enjoy.
The correlation between standard of living and energy usage is virtually synonymous, since what is considered a measure of a comfortable life necessarily includes refrigeration, lighting, transportation, heating and air conditioning, electronics for both entertainment and business, and other appurtenances that consume energy.
The effort to raise global living standards, plus the expectation of a few billion more people on the planet by mid-century, means that energy demands can be expected to at least double, though it is certainly realistic to expect that we may even see a three-fold demand or more within the next fifty years.
Carbon conscious resources
With climate change being widely recognised as one of the most pressing challenges of our time, the search is on for environmentally-benign yet dependable energy sources that can meet this inevitable energy demand. Unfortunately, the widespread belief that wind, solar, and other less-developed so-called renewables can provide for our energy needs, is considered by most energy specialists as wishful thinking at best.
Besides the obvious unreliability of these intermittent energy sources, the basic issue is one of energy density. It’s easy to say that enough sunlight falls on the earth every day, or enough wind blows, to provide many times the energy needs of humanity. It is altogether a different issue to harvest that energy.
We can easily see the problem in Germany, the country that has devoted vast sums of money to wind and solar deployment. There are entire weeks at a time when solar produces virtually nothing in Germany. During those times, even if Germany had a hundred times as many solar panels as they do now, there would still not be enough to meet their electricity demand.
This demonstrable flaw in renewables thus has to be met with so-called ‘back-up power’, a disingenuous misnomer if ever there was one, for ‘back-up’ power systems usually provide about 70-80% of the electricity, even in countries that have the biggest and most expensive renewable programmes.
Back-up power alternatives
Because there are times when neither wind nor solar provide more than trivial amounts of power, back-up power systems must be in place to provide sufficient power to meet peak demand, which is often two to three times the average demand.
The uncomfortable question is this: what will be used to provide that power when renewables fail?
Presently, that power is provided primarily by gas and coal, and less frequently by hydroelectric or nuclear power. But if we are to eliminate carbon emissions, gas and coal have to be eliminated, leaving the other two options.
Hydroelectric power, however, will always be limited by both geography and politics.
Carbon emissions, cause for concern
Carbon sequestration is often touted as being the panacea that could allow gas and coal to provide back-up power, but this is illusory at best. In the case of coal, the strip mining of coal exposes vast amounts of shale and mudstone to the atmosphere, releasing massive amounts of greenhouse gases directly from the mines into the atmosphere.
Even if the coal that was mined had 100% of its CO2 sequestered, in many cases the amount of GHGs escaping from the mine itself would exceed the amount sequestered. Even ignoring the obvious environmental issues with strip mining coal and its other detrimental effects (such as vast ash heaps), this direct GHG effect of mining is a deal-breaker for coal.
Recognition of at least some of these shortcomings of coal has led to a Faustian bargain between many environmental groups and the gas industry. Yet even in the best of conditions, gas produces a vast amount of CO2 when it’s burned under even the best conditions.
As with coal, large-scale sequestration has yet to be proven to be economical or even feasible for its widespread use.
Then there is the issue of leakage from the drilling, transport, and end-use of gas. For example, the thousands of kilometers of pipelines that transport gas from Siberian gas fields to customers in western Europe, end up losing about 40-45% of the gas by the time it reaches the customer. Some of that is gas that is burned to power the pumping stations along the pipelines, but much of it is direct methane leakage into the atmosphere. Since methane is 20-30 times as potent as CO2 when it comes to its greenhouse effect, that is certainly no small matter.
So if we’re to be serious about climate change, no matter how much we might wish for a planet powered by renewables, we have little choice but to embrace nuclear power to provide so-called back-up power. Fortunately, the development of new and ultra-safe nuclear power plant designs hasn’t stopped in the last few decades while nuclear construction was moribund.
There are several innovative designs that are very near to demonstration that are walk-away safe. Some are also designed for mass production that will assure both excellent quality control and superior economics, as well as rapid deployment.
These are the realities of energy today, as uncomfortable as they may seem to those who hold ideological positions on energy matters. Recognition of these realities is behind the nuclear advocacy of many committed environmentalists, many of whom have previously been decidedly anti-nuclear in the past. This trend is masterfully presented in the movie Pandora’s Promise, which will be screened in several events around South Africa in May.
It is my honor to have been invited to participate in the African Utility Week conference in Capetown, May 17-19, as well as other events around South Africa. These presentations will include up-to-date information on cutting-edge nuclear technologies, a topic of particular interest as South Africa contemplates the deployment of nuclear power to provide reliable and economical energy for future development. We can expect lively discussions about all aspects of nuclear power, including solutions to nuclear waste, safety, non-proliferation, and intriguing technologies like nuclear batteries (for mini-grids in isolated areas) and ship-mounted full-scale power plants. I look forward to engaging with concerned citizens in South Africa and hope you’ll make plans to participate in these discussions.
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Davos – Nuclear power is just one part of a much larger, integrated South African strategy focused on a mix of energy sources that seeks to improve local, regional and pan-African stability and economic growth.
Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson said her short- to medium-term focus would be on renewable energy, reducing South Africa’s emissions and dependency on fossil fuels.
Currently coal accounts for more than 90 percent of the country’s energy output.
Joemat-Pettersson told Independent Media that gas featured strongly in the short term and that it was definitely a “game changer”.
“In the next 18 months we must bring gas on board, with shale gas being a long-term intervention. Negotiations with Mozambique to increase the gas supply to South Africa are at an advanced stage,” she said during an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Friday.
“If we don’t bring gas on board, we will be overtaken by our neighbours.”
Part of the gas plan is to build power hubs under Operation Phakisa, which is a results-driven initiative setting out clear plans and targets driven by the Presidency.
This approach, among other aspects of the energy plan, has been favourably received by financial institutions and potential investors.
“We discussed the energy mix with our banks so they could see that we are not obsessed with nuclear power,” she said, keeping coy about which financial institutions and companies she had held talks with.
Independent Media understands that she held meetings with Ericsson, Siemens and Standard Bank.
She will also be going to the US shortly to meet with large gas players to assess their levels of interest.
So key is gas to the energy mix that it is also expected that President Jacob Zuma could well use the State of the Nation Address to provide more details on the plans.
Joemat-Pettersson said nuclear was cheaper and had the country accepted and implemented a nuclear energy plan earlier, much of the electricity crisis could have been averted.
Gas, she said, was more expensive than nuclear.
Joemat-Pettersson said nuclear energy was projected to generate 9 000 megawatts.
But nuclear was still “a couple of years away”.
She said the main reason for looking at nuclear energy was due to South Africa being a “dry country” and going ahead with the plan would increase the country’s water stability.
She cited the high volumes of clean water used at the Medupi power plant in Limpopo and the current drought as clear examples of how nuclear energy would be a more sustainable proposition in terms of energy generation.
“We are getting water from Lesotho and we are providing them with electricity. Regional stability is vital to the energy plan.”
Joemat-Pettersson said the plan included looking at helping to build energy capacity in neighbouring countries and further across Africa.
In this regard, South Africa will be pursuing interconnection with the Southern African Developmental Community countries including Botswana, Lesotho, Zambia, Mozambique, Namibia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
For South Africa, her focus for the short-term would be looking at unlocking the potential of an energy mix that includes coal, nuclear, gas, hydro and other renewable energies such as solar and wind.
“By 2020 we will be decommissioning 12 coal-fired plants and for that we must have something in place.”
The minister said South Africa was committed to honouring the decisions that were made at COP15.
These include that the emission profile of South Africa’s energy mix peaks around 2020 and falls around 2030; and that. energy efficiency improvements in electricity end-usage play a big role in reducing dependency on fossil fuels.
The renewable energy programme was getting an overwhelming response from foreign investors, she said.
“Renewable energy costs are high and the initial investment (around infrastructure) is high, but will greatly assist the economy. We will have to build towns around these plants and would, for example, need cement and steel.”
In terms of the processes involved, particularly with regards to the nuclear plan, the minister said the plan had been agreed on in 2010 as part of the Integrated Resource Plan and approved was by cabinet.
She is also part of a cabinet energy sub-committee which includes Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies, Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel, State Security Minister David Mahlobo, Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane, and Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.
She said the nuclear plan had been subjected to intergovernmental processes in which other ministries were involved, and for which she was not solely responsible.
The nuclear plan, therefore was underpinned by transparent processes and affordability, Joemat-Pettersson said.
“The first step is intergovernmental agreements. The second is requesting information and the third is request for proposals,” she said.
These proposals are then sent to the Independent Power Purchase office which “has credibility and a requisite range of skills” and which has to “test the proposals”.
These experts are from the Treasury, the Department of Energy and the Development Bank of South Africa.
“Because there is no interference, business interest is oversubscribed. There is nothing shrouded in secrecy. I am not starting the process, I’m implementing what’s already there,” she stressed.
Joemat-Pettersson said the energy plan was crucial for the next 100 years. “If we get this wrong, the country will suffer a legacy of compromise.”
JOHANNESBURG Dec 27 (Reuters) – South Africa has started a process that could lead to it adding up to 9,600 megawatts of nuclear power to its national grid, the department of energy said on Sunday.
The department said the cabinet had earlier this month given the green light to issue a request for proposals from the nuclear industry, which would be put to the cabinet for approval before a request was issued for formal bids.
It gave no timeframe for the process but the broader plan to boost nuclear power extends over the coming 15 years.
Africa’s most industrialised economy, which relies heavily on coal for electricity, has been grappling with power shortages that have curtailed economic growth, and the Treasury in October set aside 200 million rand to consider the costs, benefits and risks of building more nuclear power stations.
Yet the costs of nuclear power make it a controversial option.
Analysts estimate the nuclear project will cost as much as 1 trillion rand ($66 billion), sparking criticism from opposition parties of the expense and of construction agreements being made behind closed doors.
Former Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene pledged that the nuclear programme would be transparent and his successor Pravin Gordhan has said his office would ensure that South Africa stuck to fiscal prudence, including on any deals relating to the building of nuclear power stations.
In Sunday’s statement the department of energy said it was committed to cost effectiveness and transparency, adding it would ensure that the process is done within the government’s fiscal policy framework.
South Africa has one nuclear power plant, the Koeberg station near Cape Town.
It’s no secret that Africa’s economic development has been stifled by the shortage of electricity across the continent. The Africa Progress Report 2015 puts the annual electricity-related economic loss at 2 percent to 4 percent of GDP. In Ghana and Tanzania, electricity shortages are costing businesses 15 percent of sales.
Over 600 million people are getting restless waiting for power. South Africa alone accounts for 50 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s current installed capacity of 9 GW. According to The Africa Progress Report 2015, at the current pace of electrification (investing $8 billion or 0.49 percent of GDP annually), the continent will achieve universal access in 2080. Declaring this unacceptable, Africa Progress Report 2015 projects Africa needs to invest $55 billion (or 3-4 percent of total GDP) annually to speed up the pace and reach universal access to electricity by 2030.
Discussions about Africa’s power options often focus on renewables, hydropower and natural gas. Diesel, heavily used for power generation across Africa, and coal, widely used in Southern Africa, are not championed in discussions with international development organizations and financiers.
To close the huge power deficit and boost their economies, Africa’s larger economies – South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria -and smaller uranium rich countries – Namibia and Niger – have decided it might be time to go nuclear. Ghana, Senegal, Uganda, and Morocco have also publicly expressed their interest in nuclear power. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has indicated that it will help African countries cooperate in developing nuclear electricity. IAEA will advise on international best practices and standards. National governments will be responsible for regulatory oversight.
South Africa leads the way
South Africa, currently the only African country with nuclear power (2 GW), is actively planning to develop 9.6 GW by 2030 at a cost ranging from $37 billion to $100 billion. AREVA, Electricite de France, China’s Guangdong Nuclear Power and Korea Electric Power Corporation are vying for a share of this business. China and Russia have signed MOUs to develop skills and strategic partnerships. China has started training South Africans in nuclear plant operations.
But South Africa’s procurement process is already facing a legal challenge. Westinghouse Electric Corp. is expected to challenge the South African utility ESKOM’s reversal of a $381 million award; giving the contract to AREVA after first announcing Westinghouse’s win. The possibility of a long legal battle does not seem to be dampening interest, however.
Recent press suggests that Russia’s state-owned Rosatom is at the forefront of the next round of awards expected to take place between late 2015 and early 2016. Industry commentators suggest that South Africa is anticipating that Russia and China will offer generous financing with their bids; outside of these two powerhouses, no one is certain who could pay for such a massive expansion. Industry observers are skeptical that either Russia or China will deliver the expected funding. Nuclear power opponents including Greenpeace are demanding transparency and argue that South Africa’s nuclear push is a waste of money, better spent on other options, e.g. renewables, to address the country’s current power shortfall.
Kenya follows fast
Kenya appears to be the most active, after South Africa, in planning its nuclear power future. It has 2.2MW in total installed grid capacity with 20 GW of geothermal potential. Estimates state that an economy of Kenya’s size should have 45GW to 55GW of installed capacity.
Adding nuclear power into its fuel mix would help to close its power supply gap. Kenya projects bringing 1GW of nuclear power on line by 2025, rising to 4GW by 2033. In August 2015, the IAEA led an 11 person expert team to Nairobi to conduct an “Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review (INIR)”of Kenya’s progress. The Kenya Nuclear Electricity Board (KNEB) has completed two phases of the INIR; self-assessment and pre-feasibility preparedness studies.
An important outcome of the INIR is assessing Kenya’s progress towards setting up an independent nuclear power regulatory authority. China has signed up to help Kenya meet its nuclear aspirations. The two countries signed an MOU in 2015. China will help Kenya build skills and will provide technical support with site selection and feasibility studies. Slovenia and South Korea have also signed cooperation agreements as they position for upcoming deals. The first cohort of Kenyans is studying nuclear engineering in South Korea.
Nigeria raises tempo towards its nuclear goal
Nigeria will certainly miss its original target to go nuclear by 2017, but it has made progress building its institutional framework since first declaring its intent in 2007. With power sector privatization failing to meet the projected surge in power supply, Nigeria is ramping up efforts to explore its nuclear power options. It plans 1 to 2 GW of nuclear capacity and has selected two potential sites. Russia is at the forefront of this development.
According to Reuters, Rosatom, Russian state-owned nuclear company, can spend “$300 – $350 billion per year to build nuclear plants in Russia and abroad.” Rosatom and the Nigerian government signed a cooperation agreement in 2012 for the commissioning and decommissioning of nuclear facilities. Following further talks in 2015, Rosatom, according to Nigerian officials, will finance and operate the $20 billion project, which envisions a total of four plants, each valued at $5 billion. Nigeria’s plan is for the first plant to be operational in 2025. The IAEA is scheduled to conduct an INIR in Nigeria in 2015.
A new frontier for nuclear power?
With global sales of nuclear power plants flat following the Fukushima accident, it’s no wonder that Africa’s initial forays into nuclear power are generating so much interest. Governments have said little to address the safety concerns raised by industry watchdogs and citizen’s groups. Continent-watchers and industry observers remain skeptical that all this nuclear capacity will be built, as financing remains a formidable challenge.
But nuclear power is no longer off the table as Africa adopts an “all of the above” strategy regarding fuel options, as it struggles to close its power deficit. Currently, Russia appears to be willing to splash the most cash. But China and South Korea can’t be ignored and other countries are positioning to step up their efforts as Africa’s nuclear power market heats up.
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
Russia’s Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation said on Monday it will provide up to eight nuclear reactors to South Africa by 2023, in a $50-billion strategic partnership between the two countries.
The delivery of the reactors will enable the foundation of the first nuclear power plant based on Russian technology on the African continent, the Rosatom agency said in a statement.
Rosatom director general Sergey Kirienko estimated the value of the deal at around $50-billion, given that one reactor costs around $5 billion, according to the Itar-Tass news agency.
The inter-governmental agreement, signed in Vienna on the margins of the International Atomic Energy Agency conference, also calls for Russia to help build infrastructure in South Africa and to train African specialists at Russian universities.
Rosatom will create thousands of jobs in South Africa as part of the deal which will be worth “at least $10-billion” to local industry, Kirienko said in a statement.
South Africa’s Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson said the country sees nuclear power as “an important driver for the national economic growth”.
“I am sure that cooperation with Russia will allow us to implement our ambitious plans for the creation by 2030 of 9.6 GW of new nuclear capacities based on modern and safe technologies,” she said in a statement.
Following this announcement, Lawson Naidoo, Executive Secretary of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (CASAC) today wrote to Joemat-Pettersson. He requested a copy of the Inter-Governmental Agreement on a Strategic Partnership and Co-operation in Nuclear Energy and Industry.
“CASAC is concerned whether proper and appropriate procurement and other approval processes have been followed in respect of this Agreement,” said the statement.
Eight reactors by 2035
South Africa, the continent’s most industrialised nation, currently has only one nuclear power plant. It is heavily dependent on coal for its energy supply and its electricity capacity is already near the maximum.
Government had announced at the end of last year that it was going to have up to eight new nuclear reactors online between 2023 and 2035, along with other energy sources, including shale gas and hydroelectric power from the future Inga III dam in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
South Africa’s nuclear power ambitions had attracted several proposals.
French group Areva, which built South Africa’s only nuclear plant at Koeberg, had proposed to provide the country with its new generation of EPR reactors.
Government had also solicited an offer from the US-Japanese group Westinghouse.
The new Russian reactors from Rosatom are expected to go online in 2023. – AFP, additional reporting by staff reporter.