I recently spent a week in London, attending the World Nuclear Associa- tion (WNA) yearly symposium. I stayed on the bank of the Thames, about a kilometre from the conference venue and less than a kilometre from the Houses of Parliament. So, each day, I walked to the conference venue. I was lucky that the weather was most beautiful, with such sunny skies that I almost felt as if I were back in Pretoria.
As I walked near the Houses of Parliament, even late at night, the Union flag was flying over Parliament, indicating that the Commons were sitting. They were in heated debate about Brexit – the UK’s exit from the European Union. Each day, I could see parts of the volatile Brexit debate on TV. So, as I walked peacefully past Parliament, I imagined the loud bun fight going on inside.
The WNA symposium attracted delegates from all over the world. This resulted in my having many meetings with all sorts of companies related to nuclear power. In her opening address, WNA director- general Agneta Rising discussed her initiative, Project Harmony, which aims to add an extra 1 000 GW of nuclear power in the world by 2050. This is then projected to be 25% of world electricity supply. Rising pointed out that this ambition is totally reasonable. She also discussed the fact that total world demand would increase by then, so the projection is aimed at the expected figure.
Various details of Project Harmony were discussed, such as the fact that, around the world, many countries are reporting that their economies are in a depressed state. So, current electricity demand is not as great as it could have been.
But economies always go in cycles, and there is no doubt that the situation will change. In fact, as a scientist, I find it a strange phenomenon that one gets cyclical downturns. Even more amazing is that it happens to many countries at once. I discuss these things with a prominent economist friend of mine.
Undoubtedly, I feel, psychology plays a major role. If newspapers tell society that a downtown is coming, then it comes. That I can understand. The newspaper says that a downturn is expected and, immediately, a company decides to delay the planned plant extension “until the economic situation improves”. Many companies react the same way. So, it comes to pass that everyone goes into low gear. “See, we were right,” the newspaper reports a couple of months later. Then a neighbouring country, a major trading partner, hears about this and goes into low gear too.
Anyway, my point is that, when an upturn starts, it is likely to start fast and be felt globally. So then, rather rapidly, everyone will be wanting to build new power stations.
Nuclear is the answer for the future of the planet. The wind and solar phase is just not working out. With the Germans’ major solar and wind programme, they are now building new coal-fired power stations and, what’s more, they have not reduced their carbon emissions at all. They merely pushed up the electricity price drastically and introduced an unreliable supply. When Germany hits an electricity supply snag, it just imports nuclear power from France.
So, right now, primary obstacles to Rising’s Project Harmony are the current economic situation worldwide and the misguided public belief that nuclear is somehow inherently bad and that, somehow, solar and wind are good. This outlook is very wrong. So, what is needed is a public education programme to counter the major antinuclear drive that has been pushed by the extreme greens. They are the people who feel that we are using far too much electricity worldwide and that it would be good to have a permanent restriction on supply, which wind and solar naturally impose.
When reality dawns on the public and the wind and solar prices continue to rise dramatically, as in Germany and South Australia, it is highly likely that there will be a rapid change in sentiment towards nuclear power.
I imagine that Project Harmony could even exceed the 25% of world electricity target.
Dr Kemm is a nuclear physicist and is CEO of Nuclear Africa (Pty) Ltd as well as chairperson of the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation. He sits on the board of advisers of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, based in Washington DC. He is also a board member of GoNuclear Inc and EFN: USA, both based in Colorado, US – firstname.lastname@example.org