Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa (Niasa) MD Knox Msebenzi has urged South Africans to consider the benefits nuclear energy could hold for the domestic economy.
Amid ongoing debate about government’s announcement that it would proceed with its ambitious nuclear build programme, which sought to install 9 600 MW of nuclear power in the next 15 years, he stressed that the pro-nuclear camp was not calling for the exclusive use of nuclear.
“We are saying that South Africa needs an energy mix where nuclear forms part of that mix. In that diversified portfolio of energy assets, 17.8 GW has been allocated to renewables and only 9.6 GW will be allocated to nuclear. We are saying that South Africa needs an optimum mix and we must not put all our eggs in one basket,” he added.
Niasa believed nuclear power development would allow the country to develop skills and competencies that it could not develop through the use of
other forms of energy.
These spinoff benefits included the opportunity to further advance the already successful nuclear medicines industry, with the treatment of cancer and the training and skilling of nuclear engineers and scientists considered areas where improvements could be made.
One of the biggest objections from the antinuclear camp was that the country could not afford government’s proposed nuclear programme, which analysts estimated could cost as much as $100-billion.
Democratic Alliance shadow Minister for Energy Gordon Mackay last year called the decision to pursue nuclear energy as “nothing short of absurd”, in light of the possible cost overruns, adding that the taxpayer would, ultimately, fund the programme.
Msebenzi conceded that it would be critical to secure funding at low interest rates to finance the nuclear build programme.
“The financing model is critical. Government’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme is a world-class one with excellent financing models, and so can the nuclear build programme be.”
African National Congress secretary-general Gwede Mantashe also on Thursday attempted to refute claims that the country could not afford the nuclear build programme.
Speaking at a senior leadership meeting in Pretoria, he noted the overall cost of nuclear energy, in comparison with the cost of operating coal-fired power stations, made it a feasible option.
Msebenzi added that there was a school of thought which estimated that 70% of the nuclear build programme would be sourced locally in value.
“It will reinvigorate the nuclear industry, boost skills, create new industries and therefore create employment. The nuclear build programme can also be viewed as a regional power plan that will see South Africa supplying cheap electrical power to the region,” he said.