Dr Kelvin Kemm. Photo: Supplied
JOHANNESBURG – There was a trade union street march in Pretoria. A group of about 200 marchers handed over a petition. So what, you will say, that happens all the time. Oh, but this was different. This was a union march to the Department of Energy. It was a march in favour of nuclear power.

So, why is a union marching for nuclear power? The answer is that they have finally seen through the wool that has been so skilfully pulled over the eyes of the public. The woolly screen has claimed that renewable energy is so cheap, and that it produces so many jobs.

Another newspaper just claimed that an additional 58000 jobs will be created by renewable energy. Finally the unions asked: what jobs, where are they?

Then it was discovered that, well, er, “jobs” actually means “job-years” and this “job years” term is created by multiplying all speculated jobs by the speculated total lifetime of the plant, to get the “years” bit.

You also add into the speculated job numbers the extra fellow who, you think, will be employed to sell the extra hamburgers that you think that you will sell to the extra people who you speculate will be employed, over the following decades.

So the union fellows started to look for these “renewables” jobs, which have been created by the more than R200billion already spent, and they can’t find them.

Meanwhile, Eskom announces that over the past financial year renewable energy actually cost  222cents per kWh, but Eskom sells it for less than .90c a kWh, so all “renewable” electricity is sold at a loss. Eskom also said that in the previous financial year the figure was 188c a kWh. It increased! But we are told that the price of “renewables” is coming down.

A fact lost in the Fairyland Story is that Eskom’s cheapest electricity is the nuclear power from Koeberg Nuclear Power Station, which comes in at less than  40c a kWh. Get the picture?

But the anti-nuclear lobby say that their main concern is to “protect the planet”, so we desperately need to swop over to benign, mild wind and solar.

They want to run the country on breezes and sunbeams.

In contrast, President Cyril Ramaphosa holds an Investment Conference and tells people that we want to build the country, big time. To the credit of the president, many industrialists offer to put billions on the table. Even more big money is pledged.

But believe me, these billions are only going to flow meaningfully if the country can offer industrials a major, reliable, constant, supply of high-voltage, high-current electricity.

Oh dear, solar power is only available in the daytime. No solar at night.

So your TV and lights don’t work at night, if you rely on solar power to “light up your life”. Aha, Eskom has announced a very large-scale project to buy giant batteries. So, the batteries can be joined up to the solar and wind in an attempt to tell the big industrialists that steady electricity from erratic wind and variable solar is really possible. But the battery idea has not worked anywhere in the world.

Interesting, too, is that France is the most nuclear-powered country in the world, at nearly 80percent nuclear, and Germany has introduced the world’s largest solar and wind initiative. But the electricity price in Germany is twice that of France.

But the mantra will still be sung: that nuclear is expensive. To the tune of the mantra, foreign companies signed major, very lucrative, wind and solar deals, with guaranteed high returns for 20 years.

That is great for the sellers and the bankers.

But it is the industrialists who will be the big electricity buyers, big time.

Some in the unions have finally realised that the much-touted R1trillion nuclear cost story is fake news. Nobody in authority in the nuclear field ever came up with that number. The nuclear experts’ number was quoted as R650bn. Now note: the R650bn is the projected costs for three nuclear power stations, built sequentially over a period longer than a decade. Not all “one shot, once”, as so many media outlets love to crow.

We nuclear folks are not idiots. We would never ever have proposed an expenditure “greater than the country can afford”.

Congratulations to the growing numbers of union people who have finally woken up to the reality of the sad situation.

Nuclear power provides jobs for skilled welders and machinists, not only to people bolting solar panels on to plumbing tube frames in the Northern Cape desert.

South Africans will build the new nuclear plants. Think about it. Who pours the concrete, erects the steel structures and rigs all the wiring. Our people, or foreigners?

How much money goes where? Think about it.

Dr Kelvin Kemm is a nuclear physicist and the chairperson of Necsa.