Energy analyst Chris Yelland said the government’s new plan to use nuclear energy will not ensure energy sovereignty and will not address the country’s energy crisis within the next 10 years.
Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa announced on Tuesday, 12 December, that South Africa will soon begin the procurement process for around 2,500MW of nuclear energy.
The Minister emphasised that the move is a significant milestone because historically, “the process was mired in controversy”.
“This is profound, and what it does is cement our unassailable position as a country, as a leader on the continent in relation to nuclear generation capacity and also the skills profile that we have,” he said.
Ramokgopa said that while the government continues to build towards energy security in the future, energy continues to be poured into addressing the immediate challenge of load-shedding.
“Nuclear gives us a significant and important platform for us to be able to ensure that we are able to secure an energy future for ourselves, energy sovereignty for ourselves,” he said.
“Of course, we continue to make every effort to address load-shedding because the benefit of what we are announcing, you are not going to see it tomorrow, in a year’s time, you won’t see it in two years’ time… [In] three to four years, that’s when you’ll begin to see the benefits.”
However, Yelland said this plan will not ensure the country gains energy sovereignty.
“It actually places us firmly in the hands of overseas high-technology nuclear industry developers. Not just in the now, but going forward,” he said.
In addition, he said using nuclear energy is plagued with many challenges, including high-level nuclear waste, long construction times, massive costs and time overruns.
Department of Energy Deputy Director-General for Nuclear Zizamele Mbambo said the first of the new units will likely be operational in 2032 or 2033.
The estimated cost of building a nuclear reactor of this size is around R250 billion.
“I am not against nuclear on ideological grounds, and I certainly don’t write off nuclear technology as part of the future solution,” Yelland said.
“But right now and for the next 10 years, it’s not part of the solution. And we have to look to other solutions. 10 years is a long time in the current world, and things can be very different in 10 years’ time.”
Rather than focusing the country’s resources on nuclear power, Yelland suggested it uses some of its natural resources, “of which we have an abundance”.
He said this includes wind, solar, battery energy storage, pumped water storage, and other technologies that can be delivered much more quickly and reliably.