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Nuclear power a large but worthwhile commitment

CEO of the national nuclear regulator of South Africa, Dr Bismark Tyobeka, says that a nuclear power programme is a life-time commitment for the country and it needs extensive infrastructure preparation before it is launched. “Starting from legal and legislative framework, to having an independent regulatory body, developing the necessary human capital as well as the industrial capacity to handle a project of that magnitude, construction, operation and up to decommissioning a nuclear power plant can take a commitment of 80 years or more.  So, it is very important to make sure that a country becomes an intelligent customer, before engaging in a nuclear project.

“Moreover, nuclear projects are capital intensive projects, so, for African countries which are developing countries with many socioeconomic challenges, the issues of financing should be closely examined,” he says. “Assuming that all these have been given a green light, I think nuclear power can be a boon for Africa and South Africa.”

A number of African countries have indicated and indeed expressed their interest in going nuclear. If the world has to continue modernising and bringing about a better life for its citizens through economic development, energy needs will continue to grow, and no single source of energy will be sufficient. A sound energy generation mix will increasingly be called for, and nuclear will be part of that mix. In South Africa power generation is predominantly reliant on coal, and the new nuclear build envisaged in its Integrated Resource Plan is set to increase it, Tyobeka says.

“I am not sure if I would label our renewable energy resources as abundant but we have enough sunshine, maybe not too much wind, and not really too much water. On top of that, we must also keep in mind the cost of renewable energy which is not as cheap as people continue to advocate it to be. So, a healthy balance must be struck, taking into consideration that renewables are not base-load and cannot always be available. On the other hand, whilst nuclear power plants may be too expensive, there is a good return on investment on these plants, given the fact that the lifetime of nuclear power plants is now increasing up to a possible 80 years.”

He believes that strategic partnerships between African countries and nuclear operating countries will be necessary to get these African countries up to speed with understanding the challenges of the nuclear business and understanding what it takes to get a nuclear power programme up and running from scratch. Increasingly, financing models must also be explored with supplier countries to ensure mutual benefit from these nuclear programmes.

With innovative nuclear technologies coming to the fore this base load generation is here to stay having proved itself to be safe in the right circumstances, virtually carbon free, reliable, and affordable in the long term. At the 14th annual African Utility Week the potential of nuclear to offer Africa so much more than just energy will be discussed in the context of skills, job creation, and economic growth for all.

To learn more, download ROSATOM’s Nuclear Operator Organisations Forum paper, and the World Nuclear Status Report 2013 at www.african-utility-week.com/whitepapers.

Dr Bismark Tyobeka, CEO of the National Nuclear Regulator of South Africa, is a nuclear engineering specialist with experience in the fields of nuclear reactor design, nuclear safety analysis, advanced nuclear reactor designs and fuel cycles, including generation IV nuclear systems. Visit www.african-utility-week.com/advisoryboard for Dr Tyobeka’s complete biography.