Why nuclear energy won’t happen in SA – Wayne Duvenage


A fired-up civil society will challenge any energy plan with a whiff of nuclear and Eskom’s financial and leadership woes are the final nail in the nuclear energy coffin, says Wayne Duvenage.

JUST over a month ago, Minister of Energy David Mahlobo hastily convened an Energy Indaba. Many viewed his efforts as a partial attempt to tick a public engagement box, along with an energy sector stakeholder input session, aimed at paving the way for the introduction of nuclear power into South Africa. 

The indaba was always going to be a waste of time and money, unless a couple of cards still to be dealt were able to fall into place.

Fortunately, President Jacob Zuma’s nuclear energy ambitions were halted a year ago by the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute and Earth Life Africa’s legal challenge. This delay brought into play two new hurdles the Zuma-Putin plan would have to be overcome, if indeed they were to have their way:

 – Firstly, he needed his favoured ANC presidential candidate and ex-wife – Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (NDZ) – to be elected as the head of the ruling party in Mid-December of 2017.

Secondly, if and only if a Zuma-friendly faction took charge of the ANC, then Mahlobo – who has been tasked to force the nuclear plan into place – would have to pull out his best charade of smoke and mirrors. For he would have the unenviable job of trying to convincing society (and probably the courts) that the best Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) option was one that included nuclear in the mix.

In doing so, he would have had to manipulate generation pricing, restrain the growth of renewable energy (RE), rely heavily on the call for reduced carbon emissions and factor in the decommissioning of more older coal power stations than necessary.

As it turns out, Zuma’s plans never reached first base, and Cyril Ramaphosa’s appointment to the real centre of power has largely put paid to the president’s expensive and very unnecessary nuclear ambitions for South Africa.

One could almost picture Mahlobo’s mixed emotions on hearing of CR’s triumph at the ANC’s leadership elective conference. In one sense he had to be worried about his future as a cabinet minister, but on the positive side, he must have realised that his almost impossible task of having to spin the nuclear energy argument had virtually dissipated.  

Ramaphosa’s reluctance

Ramaphosa’s pro-RE statements in the media have signalled that he would have nothing to do with a nuclear energy option, not only because it was a senseless plan that reeked of a shady deal brokered in the back rooms of Hotel Moscow, but because South Africa just doesn’t need nuclear.

It’s too expensive and bucks the worldwide trend of adopting more RE options. On top of that, South Africa has one of the highest levels of solar exposure on the planet, making sense of plans to tap into this ‘free’ energy source.

The final nail in the nuclear energy coffin is Eskom’s dire financial and leadership problem. Eskom is broke and left with little expertise or business acumen to deliver on a nuclear energy plan. 

The current Eskom leadership team will no doubt be shipped out in due course, and whoever is placed at the helm will be kept extremely busy salvaging a sinking ship. Eskom’s new leadership team will be focused on getting the Medupi project finished, while contemplating plans to mothball Kusile and reduce its bloated workforce by some 15 000 people, plus removing the noose expensive and corrupt coal supply contracts. 

For those who still believe there is a chance that nuclear energy will see the light of day in South Africa, it simply ain’t going to happen.

Aside from the number of onerous hurdles already mentioned, the heightened energy of a fired-up civil society, armed with specialist advisers and public support, will challenge any fudged IRP that has a whiff of nuclear sown into its pages.  

Ample reliable research clearly indicates that a credible IRP scenario that adopts the least cost options – while covering the necessary base load requirements for South Africa – has no room for nuclear. Not even after many years of sizable economic growth.

  • Wayne Duvenage is the chairperson of the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse. Views expressed are his own.

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