HomeIndustry SectorsBusiness and marketsOp-ed: Nuclear power must challenge public perception

Op-ed: Nuclear power must challenge public perception

By Andrew Kenny

In South Africa, a new nuclear power build programme could produce electricity at under 100 cents/kWh. A reasonable price to pay for reliable, clean, safe electricity.

Modern nuclear stations have lifetimes of 60 years or more and very high load factors. New nuclear plants of proven design, built by vendors with a continuous record of nuclear construction (such as South Korea, Russia and China), are built on schedule and on budget.

The challenge is in elevating the technology in public opinion.

The battle is that the renewable energy lobby is rich and powerful, and has managed to get the media’s attention. They cheer on the green ideologues who long to see our countryside dominated by tens of thousands of gigantic wind turbines and colossal solar arrays.

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By contrast, the nuclear lobby is feeble and apologetic. It does a bad job in promoting the best technology while the renewable lobby does a good job in promoting the worst technology. But only nuclear can save us.

The Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Procurement Programme (REIPPPP) has been a disaster, forcing Eskom to buy the most expensive electricity in South African history.

Yet, incredible though it may sound, our Integrated Resources Plan (IRP), which has legal authority and plans until 2030, calls for much more renewable energy before 2030 and no nuclear. An IRP, based on fantasy models that bear no relation to the real world, is like a suicide note for South African electricity supply.

All around the world, including Germany, Denmark, Australia, the UK and California, final electricity prices have gone up, up, up as more renewable energy is added to the grid.

How can this be when the ‘greens’ tell us that the price of renewable energy is coming down? The answer is simple. The focus is on the price of electricity per kWh (kilowatt-hour) as it leaves the solar plant or wind farm.

Further, this generation source seldom provides power when it is most needed (at dinnertime in cold, dark, windless winter evenings). To convert this electricity into useful electricity is very expensive, requiring back-up, stand-by power, spinning reserve and extra transmission.

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The cost of public perception of nuclear power

Let me give an example. Eskom is now forced to buy REIPPPP power at 215 cents/kWh. Eskom sells its electricity at about 90 cents/kWh on average.

This causes a huge loss for Eskom. But Eskom’s problem with REIPPPP is much worse than this. Eskom must pay a fortune on top of the 215 cents/kWh to accommodate the wildly unreliable REIPPPP electricity onto the grid while trying to preserve frequency and voltage to meet demand at all times.

The total cost to Eskom of REIPPPP electricity is probably over 400 cents/kWh, and indeed the only renewable technology that does provide some reliable electricity, Concentrated Solar Power with storage, charges over 500 cents/kWh at peak times.

To get a rough idea of the total, final cost of renewable electricity, add 200 cents/kWh to the price of electricity leaving the generator. If the price of solar PV (photovoltaics) is 40 cents/kWh, then the final cost to the grid will be about 240 cents/kWh.

Nuclear power is by far the best way to tackle our energy crisis and is our most affordable option for new electricity.

Also of interest:
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That’s why the best energy news in a long time for me was the announcement by the Department of Energy of the intention of pursuing new nuclear power for South Africa.

The department has invited Requests for Information (RFIs) from parties worldwide on building 2,500MW of new nuclear power. (Koeberg has a capacity of 1,960MW.) Yet, the news has been marred by negative responses in the news and on social media.

Let’s change the public perception of nuclear power now.

Andrew Kenny is trained in Mechanical Engineering and Nuclear Physics. He lives in Cape Town, South Africa and is an independent technology consultant.

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