Koeberg Power Station near Melkbos as seen from the air. File Photo: IOL

CAPE TOWN – The release of the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) by Minister Thamsanqa Radebe this week brought a big sigh of relief after a long delay. South Africa and the world now know what the policy is. 

The nuclear industry, however, is not in a celebratory mood for obvious reasons but has welcomed the fact that there was still an opportunity for input to the process.

South Africa is the only country in Africa with a commercial nuclear power plant. Two reactors located at the Koeberg nuclear power station accounts for about 5 percent of South Africa's electricity production. Spent fuel is disposed of at Vaalputs Radioactive Waste Disposal Facility in the Northern Cape.

The energy debate in South Africa has not been a well-coordinated one and has been characterised by antagonistic forces in the energy sector which have sought to eliminate some sources of energy on dubious grounds. 

Knox Msebenzi, the MD of the Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa (NIASA) said: “Messages have been carefully crafted to persuade the public and policymakers to frown upon nuclear power as a viable option. A two-pronged attack on nuclear, which was centred around alleged corruption and affordability was unleashed, and this has dominated the narrative in the past few years. A genuine evaluation of the merits of nuclear as an energy source should not discredit nuclear because there is a fear or suspicion that some corrupt deals were signed, and therefore the technology should be jettisoned outright.”

Msebenzi added:  “The argument of affordability is also premised on disingenuous assumptions in which comparative costs are not calculated on a common basis – not comparing apples with apples.”  

Technical considerations of the inherent lack of reliability of renewable energy due to its intermittent nature are swept under the carpet by use of terms like “flexible generation” as a euphemism for an intermittent generation in the case of wind, and the fact that there is no solar at night. 

In acknowledging the shortcomings of renewable energy, the anti-nuclear lobbyists strengthen the argument for renewable energy by proposing a major backup by gas generation, in a country which does not have a domestic supply of the gas. 

This is a case of putting our country at the mercy of a foreign gas exporter.

The consideration of job creation is shrewdly manipulated to reflect massive apparent jobs created by focusing on jobs per kWh generated and not real jobs. 

The term “job years” is also used to indicate the number of jobs multiplied by the expected lifetime of the entire plant. Moreover, a lot of backup generation plus storage facilities are required for renewable energy. 

All these additional costs are not factored into the determination of the price per kWh of electricity but are unfairly included in determining claimed jobs created. The prices quoted in the various renewable energy bid windows only include generation costs at source. 

This is like selling water at the Vaal Dam, but the consumer is in Polokwane. 

The power generated is sold to Eskom on a take-or-pay basis, with guaranteed profitability for 20 years built into the power purchase agreements. It is Eskom’s responsibility to deliver this service to consumers throughout the length and breadth of the country. 

The operating costs to provide electricity as a service and not as a commodity to the consumer are not factored in.

Msebenzi said: “A transparent process of determining the appropriate energy mix for South Africa is required. We believe it is grossly unfair for the IRP to require extensive additional studies to justify the inclusion of nuclear in the energy mix. A lot of work has been done from 2007, which culminated in the 2010 – 2030 IRP. 

“There were subsequent updates which meant that extensive studies were done, so to ask for further studies in respect of one energy source only, while boosting renewable energy is grossly unfair. As the nuclear industry, we will make representations to the department and we believe we will make a case for the inclusion of nuclear power.”

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