Nuclear is 'safe and economic'

Koeberg power station, which has a great role to play in the South African economy going forward. Photo: Bruce Sutherland

Koeberg power station, which has a great role to play in the South African economy going forward. Photo: Bruce Sutherland

Published May 2, 2017


This article was produced from a presentation given by Mr Kenny at the Nuclear Africa 2017 nuclear power Conference held near Pretoria, South Africa in March 2017.

Andrew Kenny has degrees in mechanical engineering and physics. He is a nuclear power consultant.

The technical and economic arguments in favour of nuclear power are frequently presented to the public, but the moral arguments seldom are.

This is a fundamental mistake, contributing to nuclear’s biggest problem, poor public perceptions. The path of technical progress would be smooth and happy if we simply had to answer this question: “Which technology will bring the most benefit and the least cost to man and the environment?”

Unfortunately many technological choices are caught up in politics, ideology and morality.

Nuclear power must learn to deal with this. So far, it has not. This is tragic, because nuclear power has the strongest moral case of all energy sources, including renewable energy.

In South Africa, and much of the world, a green dogma proclaims that nuclear is dangerous, expensive, huge, centralised and immoral and that “renewables” (usually meaning wind and solar) are safe, economic, small, local and moral. This is the inverse of the truth, easy to refute. But nuclear advocates do not refute it very well at all.

Best safety record

The facts about nuclear power are simple. It has the best safety record of any energy technology, including solar and wind. Nuclear power has been operating for sixty years and the number of people it has killed is minuscule compared with other energy technologies.

Of the three biggest nuclear “disasters”, two harmed nobody. Three Mile Island, in the US in 1979, caused by faulty instruments and operator error, released far too little radiation to cause harm.

Fukushima, in Japan in 2011, caused by a monstrous earthquake and tsunami, also released too little radiation for harm.

Chernobyl, in the Ukraine in 1986, was caused primarily by bad design and secondarily by deliberate operator error.

The word “deliberate” means that the authorities instructed that a safety test be carried out in which certain safety systems were intentionally switched off, while the reactor was stressed. This all went horribly wrong.

Chernobyl did release radiation quantities large enough to kill about 55 people in the following decades. This is tragic, but is less than fatality figures from other major accidents involving other energy sources.

While the Fukushima nuclear accident was harming nobody, large numbers of people, including children, were suffering cancer and other crippling diseases from the awful pollution caused by mining for neodymium, used in wind turbines, near the Chinese town of Baotou.

There was not a peep about this from the extreme greens. During the decades of nuclear power, tens of thousands of people have died in accidents in coal, oil, gas and hydro power.

Nuclear is sustainable indefinitely, because there is so much nuclear fuel in the ground and the sea. It is extremely reliable.

It is economic everywhere and is often the cheapest source of electricity. It can be sited wherever you want, since the total nuclear fuel required is tiny in quantity and is easy to transport; so it can be localised if you want.

It uses small amounts of materials to produce large amounts of reliable power, so causing the least disruption to the environment of any energy source. Like all energy technologies, including solar and wind, it leaves toxic waste that lasts a long time, but unlike the others its waste is small and it has procedures for storing it safely.

Nuclear power is very clean, emitting no noxious gases in operation, and few over the whole energy cycle. If rising CO2 worries you - although the scientific grounds for your worry are scanty - nuclear is the best technology for reducing CO2 emissions.

All moral people, whether religious or not, believe that mankind has a duty to love and protect our precious planet and all her inhabitants, animal and plant.

Moral man must exercise good stewardship over the world he has inherited. We must accept gratefully the gifts of God and mother nature and use them wisely. We must work in harmony with nature, and not against her. This is what nuclear power does.

Nature has provided us with chemical energy (coal, oil, gas), indirect nuclear energy from the sun (wind, solar and hydro) and direct nuclear energy (nuclear fission from uranium and other isotopes). Coal, despite its pollution, delivered man into the industrial age, vastly improving human welfare.

So did oil and gas. Wind and solar have wonderful applications for small scale, off-grid energy, including solar water heating and remote Karoo farm wind pumps. Nuclear offers huge amounts of reliable electricity from small stations that work in harmony with nature.

The Karoo is an arid semi-desert area larger than Germany. It is famous for its stark beauty and for farming mutton and lamb which has a distinctive taste.

Right now in South Africa we are being told dishonest nonsense about nuclear versus renewables for grid electricity. We are being told that solar and wind are cheap and that the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Procurement Programme (Reipppp) is a huge success.

Under this programme the state forces Eskom to buy this expensive renewable energy from wind and solar suppliers, when the wind decides to blow and when the sun is shining, that it doesn’t want or need. Eskom’s report, ending September 30, 2016, showed that it had to pay R2.18/kW/* for renewable electricity when its own average selling price was R0.89/kW/* . Is this a huge success? Only for the rich renewable power companies and their bankers.

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), whose energy modeling group seems to have been captured by green activists, produces fantastic theoretical energy models showing that wind and solar, combined with a large amount of imported gas, will give us the cheapest possible baseload electricity.

Horribly expensive

This is moonshine. All around the world, including Germany, Denmark, Britain, Australia and the US, wind and solar for grid electricity have proved horribly expensive and unreliable.

Germany, which unlike South Africa, has access to lots of natural gas (from Russia), has used the CSIR’s combination of gas and renewables, sending electricity prices soaring. In South Australia, reliance on wind energy has sent electricity prices sky high and contributed to two total blackouts.

Now the CSIR tells us that in the next round of the Reipppp, renewables will give us some wind and solar photovoltaic energy as low as R0.62/kW/* . But this is the price of the renewable power. What is the cost of it?

Since wind energy only has a load factor of about 32 percent (which means delivering on average 32 percent of its rated capacity) and is quite unpredictable, what is its real worth? How much would you pay for brakes for your car that only worked 32 percent of the time, and you never knew when?

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Solar PV only works when the sun shines. To cope with this essentially useless electricity, Eskom will have to pay a fortune in back-up generation, storage and spinning reserve. The costs to Eskom - which means to its customers, the South African public - are likely to be more than R2/kW/* .

There is only one solar or wind technology that provides some honest, reliable electricity. This is solar Concentrated Solar Power (CSP), but only if equipped with a substantial storage system. The Bokpoort CSP charges R2.80/kW/* . Later CSPs will charge more.

Meanwhile, electricity from the Koeberg Nuclear Station near Cape Town costs less than R0.40/kW/* . Future nuclear in South Africa, based on real nuclear costs here and around the world, would cost about R0.80/kW/* - for reliable electricity and for plants lasting 60 years, or more.

Perhaps the worst dishonesty about renewables is that they are “small” and “localised”. On the contrary, they are gigantic and highly centralised. Wind turbines require ten times as much concrete and steel per kW/* as does nuclear. Wind turbines and solar arrays are typically built far away from the centres of demand, requiring hundreds of kilometres of transmission lines.

These large scale systems are all held together in vast, highly centralised grids. Just look at Koeberg. With a few buildings of modest size (about the size of a medium block of flats), it works in harmony with nature.

Now look at any wind farm, say the one at Jeffreys Bay. You will see large numbers of monstrous wind turbines, looming over the countryside, trying to dominate nature and conquer nature.

We want a moral energy policy. This means installing energy technology that works for the best benefit of man and the environment. This means modest sized power stations working in harmony with nature. This means respect for local people. This means accepting responsibility for the care of our beloved planet. This means nuclear power.

Note: Kenny states that he has references and sources for everything which he has stated in the article. He can be contacted directly. [email protected].


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