The Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa is not happy at the exclusion of further nuclear power (over and above that already provided by the existing Koeberg nuclear power plant) from the government’s recently released Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 2018–2030. Although he described the release of the document as bringing “a big sigh of relief after a long delay”, because “South Africa and the world now know what the policy is”, Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa MD Knox Msebenzi highlighted that the “nuclear industry is not in a celebratory mood for obvious reasons”.
The Koeberg plant, which started supplying electricity to the national grid in 1984, has an installed capacity of 1 940 MW from two 970 MW-capacity reactors. Over the past three years, it has enjoyed an average availability of 79.7% and is national electricity utility Eskom’s most reliable power station. It currently provides about 4% of the country’s electricity. At a press briefing during which the new IRP was released, late last month, Energy Minister Jeff Radebe said that “[u]p to 2030, there is no envisaged increase”, but that there would be in-depth technical analyses to determine the amount of nuclear energy that the country might require in the period from 2030 to 2050.
“A transparent process of determining the appropriate energy mix for South Africa is required,” affirmed Msebenzi. “We believe it is grossly unfair for the IRP to require extensive additional studies to justify the inclusion of nuclear in the energy mix. A lot of work has been done from 2007, which culminated in the 2010–2030 IRP. There were subsequent updates which meant that extensive studies were done, so to ask for further studies in respect of one energy source only, while boosting renewable energy, is grossly unfair. As the nuclear industry, we will make representations to the department and we believe we will make a case for the inclusion of nuclear power.”
He argued that the costs of the differing forms of electricity generation were not calculated on a common basis, “not comparing apples with apples” and making nuclear appear more expensive than other forms of generation, particularly renewable energy. Published renewable energy costs excluded the cost of the backup generation capacity and storage facilities that the intermittent nature of renewable electricity generation required, he asserted. “The prices quoted in the various renewable energy bid windows only include generation costs at source. This is like selling water at the Vaal dam, but the consumer is in Polokwane.”
“The power generated [by renewable energy] is sold to Eskom on a take or pay basis, with guaranteed profitability for 20 years built into the power purchase agreements,” he said. “It is Eskom’s responsibility to deliver this service to consumers throughout the length and breadth of the country. The operating costs to provide electricity as a service and not as a commodity to the consumer are not factored in.”
Further, fears of corruption, or suspicions of corrupt deals, should not cause an outright rejection of nuclear as a technology for energy production. Nuclear should be subject to a genuine evaluation as an energy source.
“The consideration of job creation is shrewdly manipulated to reflect massive apparent jobs created by focusing on jobs per kilowatt per hour generated, and not real jobs,” he charged. “The term ‘job-years’ is also used to indicate the number of jobs multiplied by the expected life time of the entire plant.” And, while the costs of the backup facilities for renewable energy are excluded from the published costs of these forms of energy, the jobs created by the construction, maintenance and operation of these facilities “are unfairly included in determining claimed jobs created” by renewable energy.