It is somewhat ironic that the official announcement that South Africa is to begin the process of acquiring 2 500 MW of new nuclear power coincided with the latest climate change circus, COP28 (28th Conference of the Parties). The conference was convened at Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a rich oil producer, to discuss the non-existent problem of climate change – which is completely natural and has nothing to do with the rise of CO2, a wonderful gas, without which we (animals and plants) could not exist. COP conferences always seek to reduce CO2 or even to achieve net zero (no CO2 emissions at all).
This would wreck the world economy and kill millions of poor people, especially in Africa, the continent least susceptible to climate change but most susceptible to being denied modern energy by the green imperialists of the north. (The climate changes very little at the equator and most in higher latitudes.) None of the proposals they suggest for the greater use of renewable energywould reduce CO2 emissions. It so happens that the UAE is a world leader in the one proven technology that would, a technology that happens to be very safe and clean: nuclear power. In the UAE, South Korea has recently built and commissioned the new Barakah nuclear power station of 5 600 MW (four units of 1 400 MW; this compares with Koeberg, which has two units of 960 MW). As usual, when a nuclear power station of proven design is built by a nuclear contractor with an unbroken record of building nuclear plants, the station was built on time and on budget. Yet I do not recall anyone from the UAE boasting about this at COP28. But I must admit I was not paying much attention to proceedings there, and perhaps someone did.
Both the nuclear announcement and COP28 received the predictable shower of nonsense. Every discredited claim of the past was repeated. Ignorance ruled. Science and critical thought were rejected in favour of superstition and blind faith. Strangely enough, even Mother Nature played her usual tricks.
At COP28, which is essentially a meeting of the world’s richest, most privileged, most powerful, most ignorant people, there was the usual competition to see who could arrive in the most expensive transport, releasing the greatest amount of CO2. Private jets abounded. Greta Thunberg did not arrive from the Monaco Yacht Club in an extremely expensive carbon fibre racing yacht. In fact she did not arrive at all. I think she has made the sensational discovery that there is trouble in the Middle East and wants to tell the world how to solve it. She was replaced by a 12-year-old girl from India.
For some mysterious reason, when a conference to discuss dangerous global warming approaches, there is a tendency for temperatures to drop and for it to start snowing. This is known as the Al Gore Effect. Just before COP28 there was record cold in parts of the northern hemisphere and some airports had to be closed because of the ice. At the conference itself, there was all the usual hysterical rubbish. There were warnings that “the world is actually on track for around 2.7C of warming by 2100.” Utter nonsense. If the Sun remains quiet, 2100 will be about 0.5C cooler than now; if she becomes active again, it will be about 0.5C higher than now. It does not matter how high CO2 rises. Above 150ppm, CO2 has no further warming effect, and it is about 430ppm now. The vague and ridiculous Paris accord of 2015, which now has the aura of something Moses brought down from Mount Sinai, wants to limit the present warming to less than 1.5C above the “pre-industrial era”. Actually temperatures right now are cooler than they were for most of the pre-industrial era (from 9000 BC to 1700 AD).
I love the fact that COP28 was held in a country that has made a fortune from selling fossil fuels and is determined to continue doing so. The COP28 President, Sultan al-Jaber, an Emirates Minister and also head of the UAE oil company, said he “respects climate science” but that “there is no science out there, or no scenario out there, that says that the phase-out of fossil fuels is what’s going to achieve 1.5 (degrees).” Perfectly true.
A pity he did not go further and say that rising CO2 is having no effect on global temperatures. The slight warming of the last 150 years is perfectly natural, just like the warm periods before it. The conference ended last Tuesday with the usual nebulous promises to do better. This was hailed by some as a “landmark” proclamation, denounced by others as a sell-out, and ignored by most as tedious baloney.
The nuclear announcement here is incomparably more important and most welcome. It is horribly late. It should have been made at least a year ago. South Africa is experiencing an energy crisis, caused entirely by the ANC’s destruction of Eskom by incompetence, corruption and ruinous policies of racial preferment. We have blackouts all the time, ruining industries, disrupting lives and crippling the economy. We desperately need more power stations that can provide reliable electricity at an affordable cost. Nuclear is by far the best energy source. Renewable energy, meaning solar and wind, is by far the worst, horribly unreliable and horribly expensive, causing electricity prices to soar and electricity failures to increase in every country that has tried them, including Germany, Denmark, the UK, the USA, Australia and South Africa.
The Full Cost of Electricity (FCOE) for solar and wind is extremely high. This is the cost of converting the unreliable electricity coming of the solar panel or wind turbine into reliable electricity. It is this cost that makes electricity so ruinously expensive in countries like Germany, with a high proportion of wind and solar. The greens try to ignore this cost; the wind and solar companies try to evade it. In our Risk Mitigation Independent Power Producers Procurement Program (RMIPPP), independent power producers had to bid on dispatchable energy (energy when you want it), on the FCOE. All of a sudden the price of solar, wind and battery energy shot up.
We only have one nuclear power station, Koeberg, which began operating in 1984, and has been running safely, reliably and cheaply ever since. Koeberg blundered in the replacement of its steam generators (heat exchangers, making steam from the hot water of the reactors), with many stupid delays, but they have now been successfully replaced in Unit 1 and will be replaced in Unit 2 next year. Despite these setbacks, Koeberg has demonstrated the success of nuclear in South Africa. But it only has a capacity of 1 920MW. We need far more. Getting another 2 500MW will be a good start. But for heaven’s sake, let’s get on with it!
In 2020, the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) published a Request for Information (RFI) for the 2,500 MW Nuclear New Build Program. This was in line with Decision 8 in IRP2019. (IRP2019 was the Integrated Resource Plan of 2019, a mainly very silly document, setting out new energy sources for electricity until 2030. It said that solar and wind, which is actually the highest cost energy, was the lowest cost energy, based purely on fantasy. But it did allow for some nuclear to be planned.)
It should have taken a couple of months to proceed to the next stage, which was to ask likely nuclear vendors for Requests for Proposals (RFPs). Instead it took two years. There was endless bureaucratic dithering from the nuclear section of DMRE, endless public hearings and endless open consultations with all interested parties, for and against. I see that some of the anti-nuclear people are saying that it was all “rushed”. This must be the slowest rush in history. Anyway, at long last, RFPs for 2,500 MW of new nuclear will go out in March
From the issue of RFPs to the award of final contracts to the successful bidder should take about two years. From then to operation of the first new nuclear unit should take another eight years. Ten years altogether from March 2024 until we have new nuclear on the grid.
The successful vendor should probably help in the financing of the project as well as the supply, construction and commissioning of the plant. Capital costs are by far the most important for nuclear. (Fuel costs are extremely low. If nuclear fuel were free, like sunlight or wind, it would make little difference to nuclear costing.) The key to nuclear financing is the cost of capital. With a real-world cost of capital, the cost that is actually paid right now, in bonds for example, the lifetime costs of nuclear are actually low. They are made artificially high by assuming an absurd cost of capital, 8% real, for example.
It is vital that the successful vendor can point to a proven nuclear design and – critically important – can demonstrate a successful, continuous record of building nuclear plants on time and on budget. Russia, China and South Korea can do so. France and the USA cannot, and so in my mind should not be considered. France once had a very successful nuclear program but has lost her way in recent decades, and her new EPR reactor is far too big and complicated. Japan also has a good record of building affordable reactors on time but the politics of nuclear in Japan might be a problem.
The usual disproven objections to nuclear have popped up again. “All new nuclear projects are over-budget and way behind schedule.” Wrong, as I have shown above. The only recent over-runs have been from vendors with a broken record of building, such as from France or the USA. “Nuclear is not clean because of the waste problem.” Wrong. Nuclear waste is tiny in volume, chemically stable and easy to store so that it presents no danger to man or the environment. The Vaalputs nuclear disposal facility in the arid, geologically stable Northern Cape desert can easily store all of our nuclear waste for centuries. It only needs a signature on an official document to allow it to store high level waste (spent fuel).
By contrast, solar and wind produce vast amounts of waste, including toxic materials remaining dangerous for millions of years. I know not one plan for storing this relatively dangerous waste for even the next thousand years. The only thing in its favour is that the radioactive wastes from renewables (i.e. thorium from mining for neodymium for some wind generators) last for a very long time, and are therefore not dangerous, whereas some radioactive nuclear waste only lasts for minutes and is therefore dangerous – although it rapidly decays to safety. There was one objection I had not heard before, and this was that 2 500 MW was not enough to build up a nuclear industry. Well, Koeberg is even less, 1 920 MW, and has been highly successful, both in providing reliable, cheap electricity and in building up some nuclear industry. I am pleased to say that few questioned nuclear safety. Nuclear’s outstanding safety record seems to be acknowledged by almost everyone now.
A curious argument for renewables for the grid is that they can be localised. Actually, they cannot, and nuclear can. Renewable energy can only work for the grid (and then not very well) in a highly centralised supply system. This is because solar and wind power plants can only operate in areas of good solar conditions, such as the Northern Cape, or good wind conditions, such as near the southern coasts and a few other locations inland. Often these areas are far from the centres of demand, and so their electricity has to be sent over huge distances, up to a thousand km, along very expensive transmission lines. The whole, huge transmission system needed for renewable electricity has to have a strict central controller, dispatching the electricity to where it is needed.
South Africa now faces costs of at least R2 billion to build new transmission lines for renewable energy. If we got no more renewables but nuclear or gas instead, the existing transmission lines would be perfectly adequate. Nuclear plants can be located anywhere. A year’s fuel for a nuclear unit can be transported on the back of a truck. Nuclear plants can be cooled by sea water, fresh water or air, so they can get cooling anywhere. New nuclear can be build next to existing transmission lines.
There is only one genuine argument against new nuclear: it will take ten years for the first plan to come on stream. That is true. But when it does it will provide clean, reliable, affordable electricity. Solar and wind plants can come on stream earlier but they can only provide unreliable, expensive electricity. Just look at their disastrous experience all around the world.
Batteries will never provide more than small amounts of electricity, good for households and small applications but useless for grid electricity. We failed to make good decisions about our electricity supply ten years ago; let us not fail again for the next ten years. In the meantime let us try to get existing Eskom stations into a better state of repair and use various means of getting reliable electricity right now, such as from powerships using natural gas. Most of all, let us rely on science, data and facts about the real world not silly ideology, woke superstition and green computer models that always get things wrong.
The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR
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