Mr Dave Nicholls - Founding Chair of the SA Nuclear Chapter, participated in a Panel Discussion on "Lights On : A Solutions Panel On South Africa's Power Crisis" on Thursday the 28th November 2019 during the SAIEE National Conference. It was hosted by Bruce Whitfield.
There were five panelists who were pro-renewables and one supporter of Nuclear Energy. This reflects the politicisation of the debate in South Africa. The facts show that Nuclear is the safest for the total end-to-end fuel cycle, also the greenest. The safest includes the history of nuclear accidents, the spent fuel issue, the improved plant safety, even inherently safe sources already available commercially, the protection from proliferation as well. These are facts. Then we come to the economics. Renewables are very diffuse, intermittent, highly variable, deeply reliant on 100% back-up and therefore additional capacity. They are also reliant on a very well developed grid for aggregation, and reliant on other new technologies that don't yet exist commercially to solve other problems they introduce, because of the rapid fluctuations and the correlated but still probabilisitic variations in the load factor. Then there are the aspects of costing comparisons that take into account the 60 year lifetime of nuclear, and the full cost of providing dispatchable power. When all this is done, only then, one understands why the "analytics" of the RE protagonists are in contradiction to the facts such as the factor 3 times higher cost of electricity in Germany. Surely, for the science of case and the economical case, RE is not suited for powering a nation in terms of baseload, whereas it has its place in remote microgrids. At the moment, for those who understand Physics and Engineering, or the actual Economics of a Utility, or for honest politicians, RE is a scenario of the "Emperor's New Clothes". Everyone is sure no-one would ever want to be corrupt in such a green venture. Everyone is sure that the enormous amount of plant necessary to harvest the very dilute energy density of the sun or the wind is not a strain on the planet. Everyone is sure that one can make every car run on a battery and there is enough raw materials for this too, as well as providing backup for the RE. Everyone ignores Koeberg right now is providing electricity at 30-40 SA cents per kWhr. Everyone thinks Moore's Law applies to RE. Everyone thinks a 20 year IRP can adequately deal with the economics of a Nuclear plants long lifetime. Alas, SA will learn the hard way, by the lights gong out, diminished economic growth and the poor paying a lot for electricity. A comment from Professor Pat Naidoo (University of Johannesburg) afterwards ... "Do review COP25 reports and proceedings; you will see RSA report card; failed, grade F. UN will shortly instruct RSA to switch off coal, the ice is melting. We will have no choice but to fully embrace Nuclear. RE is in a spot; not affordable at utility scale, probably suitable for micro grid scale. Also without baseload electrical strength, the grid will not work and scattered utility RE of solar and wind will become stranded. Tough times ahead."