Small modular nuclear reactors would be beneficial for South Africa, says industry body

18th May 2020 By: Rebecca Campbell - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

The Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa (Niasa) has highlighted the advantages that small modular reactors (SMRs) offer to, and the potential they provide for, the country. SMRs are nuclear reactors with a capacity of less than 300 MW, and, as electricity demand increases, the number of SMRs on a site could be increased to meet that rising demand.

Because of their modular design, key SMR assemblies and sub-assemblies would be produced in a factory, which would greatly reduce the construction time for a SMR nuclear power plant (NPP). Manufacturing of these components in a factory would also allow for superior systems of quality control.

“The small units are also quite flexible in terms of location,” pointed out Niasa. “Instead of investing in huge transmission lines where they do not already exist, these units can be sited as close to the load centres as possible. They can also be located inland as they typically require much reduced cooling water.”

If located at the coast, SMR designs that use high-temperature reactors (HTRs) could additionally be used for water desalination. Such an HTR SMR was set to be commissioned in China this year.

“There is opportunity in South Africa for retrofitting SMRs where coal plants are being decommissioned, thereby taking advantage of the existing infrastructure,” highlighted the association. “This will make communities around current coal power stations sustainable into the future.”

Because of their small size, SMRs offered municipalities and large industries the possibility of acquiring their own units. This would support the implementation of distributed generation and provide those towns and industries with more secure electricity supplies. SMRs also required less maintenance and opened the possibility of lower tariffs, making electricity more affordable for the poor.

“In the rest of the continent where the transmission infrastructure is limited or the demand is currently limited, the deployment of the SMRs close to load centres such as cities and mines, becomes key,” stated Niasa. “[T]he rest of Africa has adopted nuclear as an important part of the energy mix. South Africa can become a hub of the nuclear supply chain worldwide, in much the same way as in the automotive and aerospace industries.”

Because of their modular, fabricated nature, SMRs are easier to license than conventional large NPPs. They would allow the nuclear industry to emulate the aerospace industry, which combines large-scale manufacturing with very strict quality and safety standards. Production of SMRs in South Africa would help with the country’s re-industrialisation, provide an economic stimulus and create long-term jobs.