Tuesday, 27 September 2011 09:29

The case for nuclear power

The Fukushima nuclear power-station disaster caused by the tsunami in March this year, coupled with the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl collapse at virtually the same time, put the spotlight firmly on nuclear power once again.

Nuclear power is always a hot property, with almost as many people and organisations for it as against it, but it must be said that it would be unreasonable to assume that any power station should be designed to withstand a natural phenomenon such as that experienced at Fukushima. Nuclear energy (and its technology) is evolving and successive generations of reactors are becoming ever safer.

So where does South Africa stand in respect of nuclear power? The following is an edited extract of an article by Ayanda Myoli, chief executive officer of the Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa (NIASA), which appeared in the NECSA publication Energize e-News, Issue 46, July 2011.

The demand for electricity in South Africa is expected to increase to about 454 TWh in 2030 as compared to 260 TWh last year, according to the integrated resource plan (IRP) 2010.  South Africa needs all the energy they can get, and nuclear is one of the viable energy sources for the country.

The policy-adjusted IRP, in addition to all the existing and committed power plants, includes a nuclear fleet of 9,6 GW – 6,3 GW of coal, 17,8 GW of renewables and 8,9 GW of other generation sources. Whatever people’s personal views are on the reasons for global warming, it is a challenge that they must continually strive to address.

According to the IPR2010, South Africa willl be emitting about 269-million tonnes of CO2 in 2030 compared to 237-million tonnes last year, which is still a cause for concern. In the diversity of the energy mix as outlined in the IRP2010, security of supply is a major factor, as people have seen recently what the effect of blackouts can be to the economy.

Nuclear is a viable baseload generation option for South Africa, especially for the coastal and southern parts of the country where there is no major source of baseload power.

All low-carbon generation technologies, which include renewables and nuclear, will form part of the generation sources of the future. The drivers for nuclear energy still remain the same, such as climate change mitigation, energy security, improved nuclear economics, and for South Africa in particular the need for a diversified energy mix, uranium beneficiation, and so forth.

Nuclear generation is no mere stopgap. The world has readily-recoverable uranium for the lifetimes of about a thousand more of today’s “thermal” reactors. Considering breeder-reactor technology to create plutonium and the proven transmutation of relatively abundant thorium to fissile uranium 233, it is very probable that nuclear fission will take us forward for thousands of years. And then there’s nuclear fusion. In the parlous world-energy situation, nuclear technology cannot be ignored.

There are currently 55 nuclear power reactors under construction in the world, and the growth in the nuclear industry is set to continue. The demand from nuclear will not be just from new build, but from replacement components (such as from steam generators, reactor vessel heads and other large components), as well as from turbine upgrades and other refurbishments.


According to a September 2010 IAEA report entitled International status and prospects of nuclear power, there are 21 countries in Africa that have “expressed interest in, and are considering, or are actively planning for nuclear power”.

These include Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya, Algeria and Morocco. The strong support for nuclear by the African Union also means that the implementation of the economic objectives of the AU, in terms of free trade area, will put South Africa in an excellent position to exploit that market.

With the inclusion of 9,6 GW of nuclear in the country’s electricity plan in terms of the IRP2010, the South African government has given its support and commitment to nuclear power as a viable option for low-carbon, baseload electricity generation.

The South African nuclear programme will be one of the largest ever undertaken in this country, and the government has clearly indicated the importance of industrialisation and localisation of certain nuclear capabilities.

Localisation of the nuclear programme will have spin-off effects which will include economic development, scientific and industrial development, cost-reduction especially for a fleet approach, job creation, research and development, and so on.

The local industry is gearing itself up for the challenge.

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