Solar won’t replace coal or nuclear as default technology for electricity generation

A self-proclaimed anti-nuclear activist, Vladimir Slivyak, who is touring round South Africa campaigning against nuclear in South Africa and Russia, lauds solar and wind power as alternatives to nuclear. So do many other people in South Africa and abroad.

While not against these technologies capability to produce electricity, nuclear physicist, Dr Kelvin Kemm, who has recently been appointed to the special South African Ministerial Advisory Council on Energy (MACE), says these technologies cannot be baseline technologies nor are they consistent in their output of electricity, whereas nuclear is both a baseline technology and consistent.

Asked to respond to a lengthy statement by Slivyak about nuclear being too expensive for South Africa, on a website at: ( Dr Kemm replied with the following statement:

“Slivyak says: “A report by a Swiss-based banking firm claimed: “We believe solar will eventually replace nuclear and coal, and be established as the default technology of the future to generate and supply electricity.”

Come on folks, think about this.  What happens at night, when the sun does not shine, remember.  Does a whole country run on batteries during the dark?  I have a mental image of all the Swiss solar panels covered in snow in the winter.  Really, will Switzerland run on solar as the ‘default technology’?

Currently solar and wind electricity in South Africa is far more expensive than coal or nuclear, not even allowing for the intermittent nature of solar and wind which then pushes the price up even further because stand-by back-up power systems then have to be switched on.

Slivyak’s economics’ and logic claims appear to be way out when referring to South Africa’s nuclear programme. Then some of his technology claims are wrong.

Slivyak also states: “The reason behind the decline in nuclear power across the world is simple. Most nuclear reactors currently operating were built back in the 1960s and 1970s. These old reactors were designed for a lifespan of 30 to 40 years. Although some have been granted renewed licenses to operate for another one or two decades, nuclear reactors are not eternal and most now require decommissioning.”

That statement is not logical.  Slivyak claims a decline but then says that reactors require decommissioning in the future.  Think about this, it is not logic.

Slivyak further says: that nuclear power plant decommissioning requires the clean-up of radioactive waste.  No it does not.

He states that next year Kenya will increase its renewable capacity. Maybe they will, certain renewables are ideal for applications such as power for remote rural villages, and so on, but interestingly I can report that in June this year I spent a whole week in a hotel with the Kenyan government nuclear power team, headed by The Hon. George Ochilo Ayacko.  They are very interested in working with South Africa to bring nuclear power to Kenya.

 Some of the economics claims of Slivyak are way out.  I reference the research work carried out by Dr Dawid Serfontein at North West University in which he has found that South African nuclear power will be cheaper than coal-fired power on condition that the financing conditions for both are the same, and nuclear is not unfairly loaded, which happens at times.  A fair analysis should also point out that electricity from South Africa’s Koeberg nuclear power plant is currently Eskom’s cheapest power.

It should also be noted that South Africans, in collaboration with foreign partners, built Koeberg on time and on budget.  Why can’t we do that with the new nuclear plants?  Why do people feel that South Africans are incompetent now?

By the way, the SAFARIi nuclear reactor at Necsa, near Pretoria is recognised as the most effectively used production reactor in the world.  You guessed it…run by South Africans.  That reactor is currently the second largest producer of nuclear medicine in the world, last year earning South African R1.2 billion in medical exports.

South African nuclear scientists, engineers, and financial analysts are not stupid or incompetent.  They have carried out careful nuclear design and cost calculations over many years.

Current figures are projected as: about a R500 billion budget for the 10-year project.  In addition, a target is to aim for 50% localisation, which means that if the first reactor were to be built near Jeffreys Bay then many millions of Rands would flow into the region.

The localisation plan goes further.  The objective is not only to supply the South African build, but for South Africa to become a nuclear components exporter to the current market of about 500 reactors worldwide.  Necsa has already started and for the past year has been exporting locally fabricated nuclear components.

Since Slivyak mentions Fukushima and the safety issue, I will too.  What is the true lesson of Fukushima?  Well, consider this: total people killed at Fukushima from nuclear radiation was zero; total injured, zero; total private property harmed, zero.  Then the UN carried out an investigation to determine the potential for long term radiation-induced health problems and genetic defects, and found that it was zero.

So the true lesson of Fukushima is that nuclear is far safer than people realised.  Fukushima was Japan’s oldest reactor and was headed for retirement.  It was struck by the largest earthquake and tsunami on record, and radiation hurt nobody.  Slivyak does not mention that in his statement.

South African nuclear professionals are proud of their international reputation for good quality science and nuclear operations.  We fully intend to maintain our stature.”

 – Bev Mortimer from St Francis Chronicle interviewed Dr Kelvin Kemm

1 Comment

  1. – According to the CSIR, the leveled cost of nuclear is R1/kWh, new coal (e.g. Medupi, one of the most expensive coal fired plants in the world) is 80 c/kWh.
    – Dr Serfontein’s conclusions that nuclear wil be the cheaper than coal is based on a very big assumption, that financing conditions are the same. They will not be the same, Major global financing institutions are steering clear of nuclear. Because of the economics. These people are in the game of looking after their money.
    – What about dealing with the waste? I challenge Dr Kemm or anyone else to present a valid waste management plan for nuclear waste for the period of time that this waste remains dangerous – thousands and thousands of years. How can we assume that hundreds of future generations are going to have the resources to manage this waste. Which incidentally can be used to create very dangerous weapons by terrorists.
    – Koeberg was built in a different era. Look at the Medupi experience with cost and time overruns.
    -The safety systems of nuclear power plants require an independent and stable source of electricity to function. Can that be guaranteed?
    – Chernobyl is having a massive 25 billion rand containment dome built as protection against radiation. Fundraising for this has been exceedingly difficult. And this is a mere 29 years after the accident.

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