Nuclear key to South African economic growth, panel finds

30 November 2015

Nuclear power is the only source that can provide the baseload electricity that South Africa needs to sustain its long-term economic growth while reducing its carbon emissions, according to a panel of experts from industry, civil society and academia.

The experts met at a round-table discussion organized by the Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa (NIASA) as part of its ongoing engagement to encourage the open discussion of nuclear power.

Colin Little, of South Africa's Manufacturing Circle which represents medium to large manufacturing companies from a wide range of industries, said that such a program would create opportunities for the country's manufacturers. "As manufacturers, we do understand that there will be a significant import component to the nuclear program, as we are talking about some seriously engineered equipment that we simply do not have the capacity for in South Africa," he said. "There will however be opportunity for local manufacturers to create capacity and supply," he added. A stable energy hub would also help South Africa to industrialize, and become a regional manufacturing hub, Little noted.

NIASA chairman Rob Adam highlighted the logistical challenges facing the country, especially the amounts of energy that are lost in the transmission of power across large areas of the country, while Sandiswie Ncemane, of the state-owned Coega Development Corporation, drew attention to potential regional benefits. "Energy investment leads to industrialization, so a nuclear plant will have significant positive downstream impacts on the communities in the areas where the nuclear power plants will be built," she said.

Leon Louw, of the Free Market Foundation, said that it was imperative that local businesses and industry get involved to benefit from the investment opportunities from a nuclear new-build program.

Speakers from academia and business pointed to nuclear's potential. Dawid Serfontein of the University of North West noted that renewable energy alone would not be able to meet South African peak power demands. "The best combination of energy source is a nuclear baseload, supported mostly by wind power," he said. Mohsin Seedat of PWC said that nuclear could provide South Africa with baseload power in an "environmentally sensitive" way. "All indications are that South Africa is ready for the next stage of economic growth; that is why we need nuclear power. The only question is around how we actually do it," Seedat said.

Concluding the panel discussions, Rob Jeffrey of economic consultancy Econometrix said that economic growth was essential for improving standards of living and reducing inequality while increasing transformation. Without reliable baseload power, low growth could cost South Africa's economy ZAR 1.4 trillion ($97 billion) by the year 2030, he said. "Energy, electricity and employment growth are the keys to South Africa's future economic, social and political prosperity," Jeffrey said. He added: "It is baseload power, which renewables can't deliver, that is required to provide sustainability, stability and economic freedom."

South Africa's two operating nuclear power reactors at Koeberg currently generate around 5% of its electricity, and the country plans to build 9600 MWe of new nuclear capacity, aiming for the first new unit to come on line by 2023. Intergovernmental agreements have been signed with several vendor countries that have expressed interest in its nuclear new build program. Earlier this year the South African energy ministry said that it intended to select a strategic partner or partners by the end of fiscal 2015.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News