Eskom outlines importance of nuclear power

24 October 2016

South Africa is well-equipped to have nuclear power plants and has a nuclear safety culture, with Koeberg having operated safely for over 32 years, utility Eskom said yesterday. The performance of the Koeberg plant has also consistently been one of the strongest within the Eskom fleet, it said, adding that it is also the cheapest energy provider in South Africa's fleet.

South Africa's Integrated Resource Plan for 2010-2030 calls for construction of 9.6 GWe of new nuclear capacity - supplying 23% of the country's electricity - with the first reactor to come online by 2023.

"Nuclear does require high initial capital expenditure for construction but, operationally, nuclear offers one of the cheapest sources of electricity, rendering it more favourable than any fossil power generation," Eskom said. “Furthermore, Eskom has learnt significant lessons from its current new build program that it can put to good use in the nuclear program and to reduce the risk of schedule delays and cost overruns. It will also leverage its current relationships to ensure maximum delivery of socio-economic impacts of the nuclear build program."

Eskom noted the stigma associated with the word 'nuclear', but stressed the important role of nuclear power as a source of affordable, clean and reliable energy.

"When the word nuclear is mentioned images of atom bombs, the Fukushima disaster, flashing radiation warnings and nuclear-generated mutants come to mind. However, some two-thirds of the world's population live in nations where nuclear power plants are an integral part of electricity production and industrial infrastructures," the utility said.

"Around the world, scientists in more than 50 countries use nearly 300 research reactors to investigate nuclear technologies or to produce radioisotopes for medical diagnosis, cancer therapy, insect eradication, domestic application, and x-rays for preserving fresh produce."

Nuclear energy currently provides approximately 11% of the world's electricity, Eskom noted, adding that the Koeberg plant near Cape Town "powers most of the Western Cape" and had covered about 4.4% of South Africa's total electricity needs since 1984.

Eskom noted that most power stations use the same principles to generate electricity, with the only difference being the source of energy used to rotate the shaft of the generator. In [conventional] thermal power plants, it is the steam produced by heat generated either by burning a fossil fuel, through nuclear fission or through concentrating solar energy.

It said: "Nuclear energy comes from the process of splitting the nucleus of an atom of uranium-235, releasing energy in the form of heat and radiation. This process is known as nuclear fission. The fuel used in a nuclear power station is uranium. Pure uranium is a silvery, shiny, hard, heavy metal. South Africa also possesses sizeable uranium reserves and has an extensive uranium mining industry, making the country one of the important producers of uranium in the world. Uranium production in South Africa is a by-product of gold and copper mining."

The advantages of using nuclear as a source of energy are that nuclear power is safe and generating electricity from nuclear power does not lead to CO2 emissions and other greenhouse gases that can damage the environment, Eskom said. The process produces small volumes of waste to dispose of, it added.

"We are all afraid of things and situations which we do not understand. Some people object to nuclear power stations because of a fear of radiation. It is worth noting that radiation starts decreasing immediately after the fission reaction has stopped and within approximately ten years will have decreased by more than 95%," Eskom said.

"Others think that a nuclear power station would explode like a nuclear bomb. However, due to the very low content of fissionable material in the fuel, a nuclear explosion is impossible."

Eskom generates about 95% of the electricity used in South Africa and about 45% of the electricity used in Africa. It has a varied portfolio of plant: gas turbine, hydroelectric, pumped storage and nuclear units in addition to coal-fired plant.

In March, Eskom submitted site applications for nuclear installations at Thyspunt in the Eastern Cape and Duynefontein in the Western Cape to the country's National Nuclear Regulator. Both applications mentioned the applicant's intention to construct and operate multiple power reactors and associated auxiliary nuclear installations.

In September, the Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa welcomed the request for proposal start date for procurement of new nuclear power plants. It called for localization to be a key factor in the selection of a vendor through a "fair and transparent" procurement process.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News