HomeFeatures/AnalysisExclusive interview with Dr. Anthonie Cilliers, North West University

Exclusive interview with Dr. Anthonie Cilliers, North West University

Dr. Anthonie Cilliers, Extraordinary Senior Lecturer, Programme Manager: Nuclear Engineering, School of Mechanical & Nuclear Engineering, North West University

What is your response to President Zuma’s remarks on South Africa’s nuclear future during the SONA on Thursday 11 Feb?
The President’s remarks consisted of two very specific points – the first being that we remain committed to introduce 9600MW of nuclear within the next decade, the second that we will introduce nuclear at a pace and scale that we can afford. At first these points might seem contradictory, but this is not the case. The government has been conducting a number of studies on the affordability of the new build nuclear programme.

It is however important to assure this to the public. In the past year a perception has been left in the media that the nuclear programme will go ahead without any knowledge of the cost and responsibilities that come with it.  I hope the President’s comments will help to change this perception.

Should South Africans be worried?
Not at all, contrary to popular sentiment the process of 9600MW of nuclear procurement has been extremely open and transparent. The vendor parades were well documented within the confidentiality constraints of a competitive bidding process.

Government has cancelled an unaffordable tender process in 2009 indicating the commitment to affordability. I want to emphasise what the President said. We remain committed to the 9600MW of Nuclear New Build, but we will do it at a scale and pace the country can afford – that is what we should so.

Is nuclear the right choice for South Africa?
South Africa desperately needs additional base load capacity to drive economic growth. Where energy efficiency drives and renewable energy may make a contribution to households energy needs. A very stable and reliable base load is required to support growth in the industrial, mining and commercial sectors. The economy simply cannot grow without it as we have seen since 2008.

That leaves us with the option of coal and nuclear. We are building coal plants, and we will be making use of coal as base load energy source for the foreseeable future, but we all know the problems with climate change. Introducing nuclear energy to reduce our effect on the environment thus becomes a necessity.

Can you share any specific nuclear projects that you are involved in currently that you are particularly excited about?
I believe very strongly that nuclear energy has the potential to transform our country’s economy as it has done for South Korea – catapulting it from the second poorest country in the world to an industrial and economic power house.

To support that I believe I should focus on two things: Building the right skills required, and ensuring that we understand exactly the magnitude of the challenge we are taking on.

To address the first one we have initiated the South African Network for Nuclear Education, Science and Technology (SAN-NEST). SAN-NEST is a network of educational institutions, government and industry to ensure with mechanisms to ensure we build the capacity, to provide relevant high quality skills to the nuclear professionals of tomorrow.

To address the second one, I have initiated a project to build a small zero power reactor suitable for nuclear training at the NWU. To do this, we will have to follow the very same licensing and regulatory process that a large nuclear power project will require – of course the documentation will be substantially less. Executing this project will go a long way in testing our own processes and provide a scaled sown case study to assist the new build programme.

You are part of a discussion at the upcoming Nuclear Power Africa in May in Cape Town on “Advanced nuclear technologies available today and in the near future” – what will be your message at the event?
South Africa is a country with a lot of potential. Nuclear technologies has the ability to (apart from just providing electricity)support South Africa in transforming its economy into a knowledge based economy as it has done in other countries.

By developing a nuclear support industry in South Africa, we can localise expertise and ultimately develop nuclear technologies to set South Africa on a path of unprecedented growth.

Ashley Theron
Ashley Theron-Ord is based in Cape Town, South Africa at Clarion Events-Africa. She is the Senior Content Producer across media brands including ESI Africa, Smart Energy International, Power Engineering International and Mining Review Africa.


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