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Over the last decade, South Africa’s “just transition” toward clean energy has put the Country’s economy at considerable risk by depriving it of energy security, industrial growth, and an effective transition from fossil fuels. South Africa has also not met its Paris Agreement goals on decarbonisation and, for consecutive years, has been recording an increase in carbon intensity. To meet these goals, South Africa needs to cut its CO₂ emissions by two thirds by 2050, which could deindustrialise our economy, if we continue getting this wrong. If Africa contributes less than 3% of global CO₂ emissions, then how did we get so drawn into these commitments, at the expense of our economy, when more appropriate and viable solutions are at hand?

Due to South Africa’s aging generation assets, we should anyway see a rapid decline in coal-fired power generation in our energy mix over the next decade, with probably only 10 gigawatts remaining by 2050. Cleaner coal could extend its contribution but, like most technologies working outside their “comfort zones”, coal power could eventually price itself out of the market.

Similarly, the high volumes of toxic waste being generated by renewable energies globally is putting pressure on this industry to recycle its waste, instead of sending it to landfill sites. Should these decommissioning and waste management costs be added into the energy production costs, as nuclear energy does, we could also see the cost of renewables escalating exponentially.

South Africa’s coal power decommissioning programme would reduce our generating capacity by over 1000 MW of baseload capacity per year over the next two decades. Eskom’s declining Energy Availability Factor (EAF) has already started this trend. The DMRE’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP 2019) does not adequately address the replacement of base-load coal power, at a pace and scale we should be planning. The low generation capacity and intermittency of renewables has proven to be ineffective in arresting load shedding. And who backs up this intermittency when Eskom is unbundled? Therefore, beyond 2030, South Africa will be in chronic load-shedding unless an effective energy expansion programme is implemented.

A transition to a sustainable energy future is only possible through a balanced portfolio of energy solutions which deliver energy security, access to affordable energy, environmental sustainability, and socio-economic development (jobs), as its key criteria. All the generation technologies we have at South Africa’s disposal can collectively achieve this.

As demonstrated internationally, nuclear energy delivers all the above criteria on its own and should therefore be prominently featured in South Africa’s energy transition. Any technology can be made cleaner and more reliable with add-on technologies, but these additional costs tend to raise the cost per kWh, or their overall CO₂ emissions. Eskom should no longer subsidise these improvised technologies when more effective solutions are at hand.

Had we followed through with 2007’s 9.6GW nuclear procurement programme, we would have had an additional 5000 MW of baseload energy on the grid, producing 40TWh of emissions-free electricity per year, which would have again doubled in the next five years. This would have mitigated load-shedding, boosted our economy, and brought us a lot closer to our decarbonization goals.

The most effective way to successfully replace our retired coal fleet, is with clean baseload power like large-scale hydro or nuclear energy. As we have seen since 2007, once you have broken your baseload foundation, it needs the most effective remedy to fix it, unless one reduces demand through deindustrialisation and economic slowdown, which load-shedding ultimately does.

Nuclear energy is easily financed through various low-cost funding models. A great opportunity for our Intensive Energy Users Industry, is to help capitalize nuclear power plants in exchange for high-capacity, long-term, competitive, and clean off-take agreements, thereby significantly reducing their CO₂ footprints while securing reliable energy supplies.

Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) are also receiving a lot of attention and investment globally, making nuclear energy a great catalyst to kickstart our post-covid economies. South Africa is well positioned to establish an SMR manufacturing hub for domestic and African export projects. Given the capacity of our Grid, South Africa can implement both large and small-scale reactors, to achieve the economies of scale we need.

Our retired coal power plant sites would be ideal for SMRs. Their valuable infrastructures and available skilled resources, that can be upskilled and re-employed, are great enablers and will transform potential ghost towns into advanced clean energy hubs. By-products like process heat and green hydrogen can also add enormous value to that economy.

South Africa’s renewable energy, gas to power and own-generation programs, can also play a vital role in balancing our energy portfolio through distributed power systems at our load centres and beyond the grid, although environmentalists are starting to consider gas power generation, at 490g CO₂/kWh, a challenge. Like coal, this could pose a problem for financing and operating gas power for a nett-zero future. This leaves renewables (without batteries), hydro and nuclear energy as the leading low-carbon technologies for the future.

The Risk Mitigation Independent Power Producer Programme (RMIPPP) could have also considered upgrading our expensive, high-emissions diesel peakers to combined cycle gas turbines (CCGT) and fuelled them with cheaper and cleaner liquified natural gas (LNG). This would have been an investment in our existing Eskom and IPP assets and effectively raised their production capacity from 15%+ to 50%+, providing an abundance of dispatchable power, on demand. LNG could soon become a domestic fuel source through Total’s explorations.

Only a robust and workable energy expansion plan would get South Africa on a transition path toward energy security, environmental sustainability, and economic prosperity. It is concerning that this plan still eludes us after almost two decades, despite the valuable lessons we could learn from the global energy sector and the effort we have invested so far. Clearly South Africa needs to start taking more independent and workable advice.

Michael ShellenbergerClimate Journalist and Author: “The anti-nuclear lobby group, over the last two decades, has only successfully kept the share of fossil fuels in our global energy mix above 80%”. Are these unintended consequences?

Des Muller - Co-Spokesperson for the SA Nuclear Build Platform

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South Africa has a relatively small but experienced nuclear industry, with some of its talents behind the development of local and international small modular reactors (SMRs) and the operation of some of the world’s most advanced nuclear power plants. We are also leaders in the field of nuclear medicine and research.

Although, over the last four to five decades, our nuclear industry has been geared toward operating and maintaining our Koeberg power and Safari research reactors, the earlier nuclear power procurement programs and Koeberg’s life extension projects have developed a local nuclear supply chain, seeing new entrants qualifying for these opportunities and building capacity.

During the 2007 nuclear build procurement programme, South Africa’s industry became well-aligned with the two international nuclear vendors and their EPC contractors. Being a vendor-controlled turn-key EPC solution, with a fully integrated local workforce, the risks experienced on our recent coal builds would have been mitigated. This remains the preferred contracting strategy for all nuclear builds today.

In 2007, the localisation target would have resulted in a local spend of over R300 billion, across our industrial supply chain, over 15 years. This would have prevented the collapse of our construction and manufacturing sectors and significantly reduced today’s unprecedented levels of unemployment. The local operation and maintenance spend over the following 60 years would have significantly changed the economies around those power plants, as we have seen with Koeberg.

Today, we have several large-scale nuclear power plants, SMRs and potentially a Multi-Purpose Research Reactor in our procurement plans. While this provides us more options, it adds complexity and time to the procurement process, which can pose challenges for our local industry.

The large-scale Generation III nuclear power plants are through their ‘first of a kind’ (FOAK) phase, with many reactors successfully connected to the grid and achieving designed performance. Many new nuclear power plants and SMR demonstration units are under construction internationally, significantly reducing construction schedule and cost risks for Africa.

A country that is setting a great example for South Africa on localising a nuclear new build is the UK. Although a lot larger than our industry, we are similar in having last built nuclear power plants almost four decades ago. Through an effective Government-led industrial development program, an ambitious localisation target for the first nuclear power plant was achieved. The UK’s fleet build programme will result in significant reductions in build costs and schedule, reducing electricity tariffs while creating exponential growth in local employment.

A nuclear build programme delivers far-reaching and long-term impact across the industry’s supply chain: from advanced education to apprenticeship training, with top jobs in planning, legal,

financial, regulatory, engineering, manufacturing, and construction disciplines. The plant’s operating & maintenance functions that follow for the next 70 years, places nuclear energy as an industry leader in providing decent high-paying jobs and technical careers over the long-term.

A great opportunity for our Intensive Energy Users Industry, is to help capitalize nuclear power plants in exchange for high-capacity, long-term, competitive, and clean off-take agreements; thereby significantly reducing their CO₂footprints while securing reliable energy supplies. Nuclear energy’s low cost and reliability will result in sustained economic growth for South Africa.

It is encouraging to see the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) requesting a public hearing on the suitability of the Thyspunt site, in the Eastern Cape, for a nuclear power plant. This is how we can effectively deliver the growth and prosperity we have promised that region. Let’s Participate!

Although the barriers to entry to the nuclear industry are understandably high, the sheer size of the opportunity makes it worthwhile for our industry. Before one can be contracted, significant progress on the nuclear qualification and safety culture programs are required. As seen with developed countries, nuclear qualifications and capabilities will advance our industries toward high-tech markets and other safety-class industries, like aerospace and LNG, reducing imports.

The timing for the engagement of our local industry in a nuclear build is vital. A well-coordinated alignment will optimize localisation while mitigating risks for our industry. This also requires a well-coordinated procurement programme between our Government stakeholders and the many nuclear vendors and technologies. Our local industry should be engaged systematically through orientation, assessments, prequalification, and integration programs, which the South African Nuclear Build Platform coordinates.

Jennifer Granholm – United States Secretary of Energy. - “Let me say it loud and clear. Carbon-free nuclear power is an absolutely critical part of our decarbonization equation.”

Des Muller - Co-Spokesperson for the SA Nuclear Build Platform

It always fascinates me how the two competing clean energy technologies are desperately trying to emulate each other, where renewables try to provide base-load power while nuclear tries to reduce its capital costs and speed to grid. This puts them outside their “comfort zones” and often into higher electricity prices.

Reliability, low emissions, and affordability are what makes energy sources valuable today. While nuclear energy achieves these criteria, the intermittency of renewables requires back-up power and higher grid costs, thereby reducing its value to the end user. LCOEs alone can be misleading. The energy source’s value raises significantly when desalination, process heat and hydrogen can be flexibly provided during low electricity demand.

Energy sources that offer excellent employment for the host country over the full lifecycle, are also considered valuable. These include the planning, manufacturing, construction, O&M, and decommissioning phases. The range of employment opportunities varies between energy sources.

Employment in the industrialised nuclear and wind energy sectors can be accurately compared on an energy production basis of say 100 TWh per annum over the full 70-year lifecycle of a nuclear power plant. This will require 13 GW of nuclear, or a 38 GW wind farm which will have to be replaced three times and occupy vast amounts of our pristine countryside. Even then, nuclear energy provides about 30% more direct, indirect, and induced employment opportunities than wind. Being fully imported, employment in wind energy is limited in South Africa. Nuclear jobs range from highly qualified to well-trained artisans and generally pay more. With an effective nuclear industry, up to 40% of the project can be localised, delivering great value to the economy.

Optimal engagement from the local industry requires that Government:

· Creates confidence regarding Government’s commitment to nuclear energy.

· Provides clarity on the future pipeline for our nuclear sector.

· Partners with the local industry in developing a competitive nuclear and export supply chain.

· Procures a nuclear build program that meets our energy needs and industrial aspirations.

· Re-aligns our industry’s enhanced capabilities to new advanced industries and export markets.

NuEnergy has been engaged in developing a local nuclear supply chain since 2007 when South Africa started procuring a fleet of power reactors, a research reactor and Koeberg’s LifeEx projects. Back then, the PBMR program provided us with a competent nuclear supply chain. We also had the “big five” construction companies, which has transformed into the “agile fifty”. So, the industrial landscape has changed, and aged a little, providing great opportunities for mentoring the youth and rebuilding industry champions, supported by the innovative digital technologies we have today.

Although the barriers to entry for the nuclear industry are high for new entrants, we have had the privilege of introducing two major construction companies to our nuclear supply chain and recently qualified a new organisation for Koeberg’s LifeEx program, to the highest nuclear safety standards. Not all the opportunities in a nuclear build are to this high-quality standard, but a good quality and safety culture is key.

Given the sheer size, longevity, and complexity of the nuclear new-build packages, we encourage industry leaders to support this program, understand the dynamics and how to safely engage it. This is our opportunity to salvage our industry and help reposition South Africa as an industrious economy. South African’s have shown their metal this week at UAE’s Barakah nuclear power plant, let’s bring it home.

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