Experts speculate on meaning of Ramaphosa’s nuclear omission in SONA
Cape Town - Energy experts and commentators are speculating on the the significance of the omission of any mention of nuclear energy by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his State of the Nation address, with one suggesting this might be a sign that the government may have dropped its commitment to the nuclear power option.
In his speech on Thursday night, Ramaphosa said: “The fourth priority intervention of the recovery plan is to rapidly expand energy-generation capacity.
“Over the last year, we have taken action to urgently and substantially increase generation capacity in addition to what Eskom generates. The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) will soon be announcing the successful bids for 2 000 megawatts of emergency power.
“Government will soon be initiating the procurement of an additional 11 800 megawatts of power from renewable energy, natural gas, battery storage and coal in line with the Integrated Resource Plan 2019.”
Mark Swilling, Distinguished Professor of sustainable development at the School of Public Leadership, Stellenbosch University, said: “It is significant that nuclear wasn’t mentioned. It’s not like government forgot about nuclear.
“The DMRE has after all been pushing nuclear power very hard. What is more likely is that the department failed to get its way, and that can only be a good thing, as nuclear is expensive and risky, especially when there are cheaper alternatives.
“What the president announced is a very good start, but not enough. Instead of the procurement of an additional 11 800 megawatts, what we need is at least 20 000MW if we are to be free of load shedding by 2025.
“There is a problem if the 11 800 includes coal because it’s not as though you can build a new coal mine. Nobody is funding them anymore. Around the world even new coal stations are shutting down. The 11 800MW should be strictly from renewables.”
Executive director of the Southern African Faith Communities' Environment Institute (Safcei), Francesca de Gasparis, said: “The president’s speech was silent on nuclear power, yet we know from recent developments that the government has been pushing on with its nuclear plans, despite more nuclear not being needed and being one of the most costly electricity generation options.
“In terms of the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), which lays out our energy choices, this risky and outdated technology is not even identified as a necessary part of the solution to the country’s ongoing energy crisis. Renewable energy is significantly quicker to install and a more cost-effective choice.”
The Climate Justice Charter Movement lobby group said in a statement: “The economic recovery plan calls for more off-shore extraction of oil and gas. If the president is serious about the climate crisis he would make it clear that nuclear energy plans are also off the national agenda. In this context, we would have taken his climate change commission more seriously.”