Nuclear Energy is globally recognised as a valuable source of safe, clean, reliable and affordable energy, and when harmonised with Africa’s abundant thermal, renewable and hydro resources, a balanced and sustainable energy portfolio for Africa can be achieved, says independent clean energy company NuEnergy Developments director Des Muller.
“The World Nuclear Association’s (WNA) Harmony Goal aims for nuclear energy to provide 25% of world electricity generation by 2050 as part of a diverse mix of low-carbon generating technologies to avoid the most damaging consequences of climate change, based on the International Energy Agency’s (IEA’s) ‘two-degree’ scenario.”
Over the past 25 years, the start-up of new nuclear reactors has escalated from five nuclear reactors per year to 10 nuclear reactors per year, while 14 new reactors are expected to start up this year, with four of them being a debut for the new Generation 3+ power plants. Muller refers to WNA director-general Agneta Rising saying that the next two years will see another 33 GWe of nuclear capacity added to the global grid.
Further, Muller underlines emerging African energy demand. The IEA’s Africa Energy Outlook for 2014 indicates that some 625-million people in Africa do not have access to electricity, while another estimated 730-million Africans on the continent use dirty and potentially hazardous fuels to cook.
“This being the case, nuclear energy is probably one of the few technologies that can effectively alleviate energy poverty while maintaining environmental sustainability. Once the considerations around nuclear energy have been dealt with, we can start unlocking real progress towards achieving sustainable growth and prosperity for Africa,” explains Muller.
Therefore, he highlights the importance of making smart choices regarding Africa’s energy planning. Africa has an abundance of viable natural energy resources, including thermal, hydro, renewable and nuclear energies, which needs to be sensibly developed and delivered through its regional power pools and distributed energy management systems.
“Given the portability of its fuel, nuclear power plants (NPPs) are not confined to specific geographies as with other power plants. “However, the establishment of a robust nuclear legal and regulatory framework, for nuclear safety and anti-proliferation in the host country, requires dedicated commitment and time. “The International Atomic Energy Agency and some of the global nuclear vendor countries can assist in establishing this requirement.”
According to Muller, the future small modular reactors (SMRs) can be more easily accommodated on smaller grids but the 1 000 MW+ NPPs are more suited to the larger interconnected regional grids or power pools.
Muller points out that, “although the capital costs of NPPs are high, its low operating costs, high energy yields, long operating life, low emissions and high employment ratios make it one of the most sensible and sought-after technologies for the continent today”.
He adds that coastal and load-centre-based NPPs not only reduce transmission losses but also provide a clean and effective means of desalinating water and powering electric mobility in the near future.
In regard to preparing Africa’s nuclear energy programme, Muller says, regardless of what business or funding model is selected, who the preferred nuclear vendors are or whether the SMR or conventional NPP route is chosen, the benefits of localising an optimal portion of the build and operations and maintenance phases can provide huge opportunities for local industries.
He notes that even an industrialised country like South Africa will need to go through a rigorous human capacity development and quality upskill programme which will reduce the dependency on importing nuclear engineering, manufacturing and construction capacity, while creating a more specialised export market for the country.