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Nuclear Energy – Recovering an Industry

South Africa has taken an important step toward establishing a balanced and sustainable energy portfolio for the country by releasing an RFI for nuclear energy. This RFI will reveal the true value and costs of nuclear energy, which the public was denied with the termination of the RFI in 2016.

Electricity is one of the largest and most valuable commodities in the world today, especially when it is clean, reliable, affordable, and safe. The efficacy of nuclear energy is backed by its sheer volume of clean, reliable electricity that helps mankind and forwards real progress and expansion.

A 1-Gigawatt nuclear power plant (NPP) can produce up to 3x South Africa’s annual electricity consumption, or 600 TWh, during its 75-year operating life. Due to the low volumes of fuel used, the spent fuel produced will fit on half a tennis court or less than 400m³. This waste can be safely stored or processed into other NPP fuels, reducing the volume that needs to be managed over the long term by about 80%.

Some of that abundant thermal and electrical energy can also provide process heat, desalination, and green hydrogen when grid demands are low. Modern NPPs are also a lot more flexible in following demand and, to a degree, like coal and gas, can work in harmony with intermittent energy sources. The introduction of Small Modular Reactors (SMR) in the future should also improve flexibility.

Another key benefit of a nuclear new build is the extent of localisation that can be achieved with a well-prepared industry, resulting in sustainable jobs during development, construction, and O&M. Partnerships with experienced international resources, in a controlled EPC environment, will alleviate the risks we recently experienced in our coal new builds, and something that Eskom could manage a lot better.

The barriers to entry to provide services to the nuclear industry are understandably higher, considering the exceptional quality and safety standards required from the engineering, material supply, manufacturing, and construction sectors. These standards raise the overall competence of our industry across all sectors, thereby transforming imports into exports while supporting our post-Covid Economic Recovery Plan.

South Africa has a rich nuclear industry heritage, dating back to the 60’s, with Necsa’s research reactor and the 80’s, with the construction and commissioning of Koeberg. The PBMR program, at the start of the 21st century, also positioned our nuclear industrial capabilities in the global arena with many accolades.

Our Eskom, Necsa, and PBMR resources added enormous value to South Africa’s recent nuclear new build procurement and Koeberg refurbishment programs. For the latter, local engineering, project management, and construction companies are being successfully qualified to the top international nuclear quality and safety standards, which sets a great precedent for the localisation of a nuclear newbuild. We are ready to manage the alignment and nuclear readiness of our local Industry Champions.

With reliable clean energy systems, powering growth into our economy, it is only fitting for our industry leaders to join Government in realising a successful nuclear build program for South Africa. This time, a transformed industry will “put South Africa back to work” and lead us out of this energy paralysis.

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