Dr Cilliers is the Lead Programme Manager: Nuclear Engineering, School of Mechanical & Nuclear Engineering, North West University. He is part of a panel discussion at the Nuclear Power Africa as part of African Utility Week.
Why is nuclear still the right choice for South Africa in your view?
I don’t think there is a right choice for South Africa as opposed to a wrong choice. The world needs energy to fuel economic activities and growth. In the last century many countries relied heavily on coal and oil to support these activities and the subsequent growth.
Nuclear power and fossil fuels are the only energy sources that provide energy with a high enough energy density to support industrial energy demands. Of course fossil fuels are contributing heavily to climate change and as a result we need to find an alternative – nuclear power.
This might be contrary to what supported of renewable energy is advocating, but international consensus has been reached that our climate goals cannot be reached without nuclear energy. Germany is a typical example of a country saturated with renewable energy (80GW, 50% of the installed capacity). Germany today is more dependent on coal than ever before with a 5 times bigger CO2 footprint than that of France (75% nuclear).
We need to make honest choices for the benefit of South Africa, rather than follow a few private investors aiming to make profit from South Africa’s energy turmoil.
There is an intensive, on-going debate about nuclear in South Africa at the moment. Do you believe that the conversation about nuclear is too influenced by politics currently?
I believe nuclear energy is being misrepresented by many parties because it does not fit personal interest. Nuclear power is on record the safest energy source of all, it is clean and provides the most stable form of electricity available today. Unfortunately it has large capital costs attached to it making it difficult for private investors to have an appetite for it.
When deployed it will, however, provide in all our energy needs – taking away the private investors’ opportunity to make money. I think politics has been drawn into this as a way to taint nuclear energy. If simple, honest energy planning is done, nuclear should form the foundation of South Africa’s energy supply.
Can you share any specific nuclear projects that you are involved in currently that you are particularly excited about?
Currently I am working very hard on mobilising the nuclear education sector to ensure we have all the skills we require when the nuclear build programme starts. This, of course, has a lead time of at least four years, so we have our work cut out for us.
In the long term we have nuclear researchers developing the nuclear power plant of the future, specifically aimed at supporting electricity grids with many intermittent supplies, designing them to be easily deployable an even safer than the plants we operate today.
This is particularly with the UN sustainability goals in mind. I am sure you will hear more about these future plants at the African Utility Week.
You are part of a discussion at the upcoming Nuclear Power Africa in May in Cape Town on “How nuclear technology could support the UN sustainability goals” – what will be your message at the event?
I believe in a world where every person has access to an abundant supply of energy. We should use more energy, not less, to improve the quality of life of every person on earth. We should have access to clean water, food, and be able to take our future into our own hands.
We should take care of the earth and use her resources in a responsible and sustainable way. This can only be achieved with nuclear energy, nothing else.
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