Nuclear power has key role in solving SA’s energy crisis

The scramble among the world’s superpowers to supply Africa with nuclear energy has gone up a notch as Russia showcased its small modular reactors that will compete directly with renewable energy providers.

Russia, China, France and the US are competing in this modern day scramble for Africa to build nuclear power plants across the energy deficient continent.

At the Atom Expo 2024 in the holiday resort town of Sochi, Russia, held last week, Russia unveiled small floating power units, which are meant to compete head on with solar and wind energy sources.

The sponsor of the expo, the Russian government owned nuclear power plants producer Rosatom, is one of the fierce international rivals competing for a contract to supply nuclear energy to South Africa, currently reeling under the strain of loadshedding.

In December, the SA government announced plans to launch a bidding process for the erection of a large 2 500MW nuclear power plant.

On Friday the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy’s spokesperson Makhosonke Buthelezi told Sunday World that “we have not issued the RFP because we still have to complete the feasibility report that we’re working on with relevant stakeholders, as required by the National Treasury”.

According to Eskom, Koeberg in Western Cape remains Africa’s only nuclear power station with a total capacity of 1 860MW, approximately 5 % of electricity generated by Eskom.

Rosatom is currently building Africa’s second nuclear power plant in Egypt with an estimated cost of $30-billion (R560-billion). The 1 200MW plant comprising of four units is expected to be fully operational in 2030.

At the expo, Rosatom showcased three different types of power plants: a small land-based plant, small floating power units (FPUs) and a nuclear power plant. It was explained that the FPUs produce between 77 MW and 180 MW of energy. The small nuclear power units were a sign that Russia was taking the fight to renewable energy companies as nuclear power plants have long been criticised for being expensive to to build, though they produce cheaper electricity while renewables are currently the most expensive source of power for the end user.

Ryan Collyer, CEO of Rosatom Central and Southern Africa, said he believed the floating units would be a game changer in solving Africa’s electricity woes as they do not require capital expenditure because they could be owned by a vendor.

“In the African continent, there is a huge deficit of electricity. We face our own issues in South Africa with loadshedding, which the country is working very actively to resolve, and I believe nuclear energy can play a very key role both in the perspective of small modular reactors as well large as scale reactors in solving that issue.”

He said Rosatom was working on a floating nuclear power plant, a project he believed would be a game changer particularly for African countries that do not have nuclear energy.

State-owned Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa (Necsa) was represented at the expo, which was attended by delegates from Africa, South America, Europe and Asia.

Necsa chief executive Loyiso Tyabashe used the opportunity to call for the need to judge electricity produced from the power source according to price instead of the cost of production.

Tyabashe said the price and benefits of nuclear power plants should be weighed against those sources of energy that compete with nuclear, adding people should stop worrying about the cost of production.

“Most of the nuclear plants are financed by the vendor countries to about 85% of the project cost, with the hosting or the operator to finance 15%. These are Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development terms. Non-OECD countries can provide even more financing. So these plants come financed.

“I think the question should be how much does it cost to buy one unit derived from nuclear. If you buy milk, you ask about how much a litre will cost you, you don’t ask about how much the cow cost you.”

He also emphasised that nuclear was qualified as Just Energy Transition, a term used to refer to energy security, socio economic needs of the country and environmentally responsible.

“To have some people who are fundamentally anti-nuclear is something that we can’t really change. We only need to share the facts that nuclear, as we operate two units in South Africa for power generation and nuclear research… is actually a very reliable source of energy. It is environmentally sensitive and it also speaks to the social ills. ”

Tyabashe said Necsa was liaising with the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy to play a more active role in power generation.

“At this point in time, government is looking at nuclear infrastructure as well as nuclear institutions. But our role is clear that we do have a role in providing nuclear research, the nuclear energy policy does cover us and says we can partner up with potential vendors to do the manufacturing and other things.

“The only part that has been silent has been around us being able to have a power purchase agreement and a power station, and that’s the part that if we do get we will embrace wholeheartedly we are just pushing forward with all the current mandates that are explicit on our side,” said Tyabashe.

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