It has been a long and difficult road for those promoting nuclear power as a solution to South Africa’s electricity needs. Recently, so much has gone wrong for the nuclear lobby it is hard to imagine how it could be worse:
- The Rand has lost 20% of its value over the past year. The nuclear option was always worryingly costly, but now is in effectively 25% more expensive
- The ongoing Fukushima saga, the third widely reported nuclear disaster, has brought the dangers of nuclear power to the forefront of the public mind and resulted in widespread popular resistance
- The increased complexity of the safety mechanisms found to be necessary after the 2011 disaster have added significantly to the pre-Fukushima costs of nuclear power stations
- The National Planning Commission, headed by ex-finance minister Trevor Manual, has questioned the affordability of nuclear power and recommended the nuclear plans should be re-examined
- Electricity demand projections in the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 2010 have turned out to be very optimistic. It was based on the assumption of 4% economic growth from 2012, and 5% from 2016. However, recently economic growth was recorded at 1.9%. This difference in annual growth accumulates to make a very significant difference in the future projected demand for electricity
- Eskom attempted to raise electricity prices by 16% per year over 5 years, compounding to a total increase of 110%. The National Energy Regulator slashed this to 8%, which compounds to just 46% over the 5 years
- The credit rating of Eskom has been lowered twice since 2008. This makes it significantly more expensive to borrow the large amount of capital required for nuclear builds
- Historically, of the 734 nuclear station on which construction has been started, 73 were cancelled before construction was complete. This makes it a very risky venture with a one in ten chance of failure, and so difficult to raise capital for any new nuclear build
- The Environmental Impact Assessment process for the nuclear build, run by Arcus Gibb, has been stumbling along since May 2007. After a long hiatus release of the third revised draft report has been promised around the end of 2013. From the poor scientific quality of the previous drafts, this next draft is likely to also attract a flurry of scathing scientific criticisms, and is unlikely to succeed
- There is still no working solution to the problem of nuclear spent fuel disposal is unknown, and leaving this danger and an unknown cost to future generations is ethically questionable
First official signs…
The IRP is a plan for electricity in South Africa, and is a subset of the Integrated Energy Plan (IEP). The latest IEP has just been released, and will presumably be the basis for the next IRP. A table on page 138 of this IEP shows the contribution of nuclear power as flat up to 2030. This aligns with the recommendations of the NPC, but is in stark contradiction to the IRP of 2010, which calls for new nuclear power stations to be online in the early 2020’s.
While many in government have expressed doubts about nuclear power, this is the first official report which shows signs that the nuclear path will be abandoned.
Meanwhile, renewable energy sources have seen falling costs, wider acceptance, and technological advances which make it clearer with each passing year that renewable energy sources are not only cleaner and more sustainable, but also cheaper than other forms of energy. Hopefully this message will sink in to the minds of our decision makers before they commit the country to long-term debt and all the dangers of more nuclear power stations.