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Rebuilding South Africa’s Nuclear Supply Chain

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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