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Aug 21, 2013

Nuclear power more expensive than coal-fired power – researchers

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Research undertaken by academics from the North-West University (NWU) has found that the new nuclear energy capacity being proposed for development in South Africa could be twice as expensive as that of coal-fired power generation capacity.

NWU Center for Research and Continued Engineering Development (CRCED) Vaal manager Professor Piet Stoker and CRCED Vaal Professor Johan Fick detail in their research paper, titled ‘A systems engineering approach to level the playing field: Electricity from coal versus nuclear’, that the levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) for new nuclear power generation capacity would start at an optimistic 92c/kWh.

However, the cost of nuclear power generation was likely to be closer to 110c/kWh and could even reach as high as 134c/kWh under a high-risk scenario.

This compares with a LCOE of as high as 79c/kWh for coal.

The researchers say their comparative study was carried out using the globally accepted metric of LCOE with the risk-weighted cost of capital as the major variable. They based their input data on information published by State-owned power utility Eskom, the National Energy Regulator of South Africa, the Department of Energy (DoE) and other publically available information.

Fick added that the delays and cost escalations seen at the Medupi coal-fired power station construction project did not bode well for other megaprojects that might be undertaken in South Africa, and particularly those that would comprise a nuclear new build programme.

In July, DoE director-general Nelisiwe Magubane told Engineering News Online that consultants had been appointed to conduct a cost analysis of South Africa’s proposed nuclear power generation plans. The analysis would take into account the recent events at the Medupi and Kusile coal-fired power station projects, as well as the cost implications of government’s decision to develop a nuclear industry locally, as opposed to procuring individual power stations.

At the time, she indicated that the current cost estimates for new nuclear capacity ranged between $3 500/kW and $7 000/kW, with the European build programmes at the higher end of the scale and Asian countries’ project costs at the lower end.

Edited by: Chanel de Bruyn
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