Is minister Dipuo Peters backtracking on Upington ?


Barely 4 months ago we were made to believe our minister of energy was serious about promoting concentrated solar power on a world first/largest platform.
Do I not recall a figure in the region of R9billion in research on viability of nuclear power being written off in early 2010. Are we now pursuing both options and if I happen to be a prospective investor in the Upington project, invited by minister Peters personally, should I be concerned ?
If the following statement prove to be factual, in the words of Rodriguez “I wonder”
Alwyn Smith (SAAEA)

“Our recent success in the international isotope market, where we are currently the world leaders in supplying Molybdenum-99, is a clear indication that we can play in the league of the world’s best in the nuclear industry,” Peters said.

(Excerpt from Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) of the South African Government.)
Full content below…..

Debunking nuclear fears

The South African government has thrown its weight behind a nuclear build programme to ensure that 14% of the country’s baseload power comes from this source by 2030. By relying more on nuclear power and less on coal, the country will be able to boost security of electricity supply in the future, effectively address climate change and create thousands of jobs.

Speaking at a media roundtable briefing on nuclear energy on 1 December, Minister of Energy, Ms Dipuo Peters, MP, said: “The acute need to secure reliable energy supplies and the urgent requirement to reduce carbon emissions has put nuclear energy firmly on the agenda as a viable choice to be pursued in order to achieve an acceptable energy mix for our country.” 

However, the sheer mention of nuclear energy almost always sparks a passionate response, with visions of atomic warfare, the Chernobyl disaster and radiation damage often popping into mind. This is why government chose to host an open discussion with media on the topic – as “at the heart of a successful, peaceful nuclear programme is the presence of a major public education campaign”, Peters added.

“Nuclear, because of the way it has evolved, is a subject that is usually accompanied by a lot of resistance. We all know that the prevalence, even on a small scale, of a lack of transparency, information itself contributes to these fears. This is why it is essential that there is active participation in the demystification of nuclear energy applications.

“Countries that have successful nuclear programmes have a high percentage of citizens who understand what nuclear energy is, the risks and benefits associated with it and therefore support such programmes. It is therefore the responsibility of all stakeholders – including government – to engage the public regarding nuclear energy education. This includes the media,” the minister continued.

It’s helpful to bear in mind that when managed responsibly, nuclear energy programmes can be completely safe and sustainable. Just look at the track record of our very own plant, Koeberg, northwest of Cape Town. The only such facility in the country at the moment, it’s been running for nearly three decades without incident, delivering about 5.5% of the country’s electricity. With some planned upgrades, Koeberg will continue operating until at least 2035.

Driving the nuclear programme

Governing South Africa’s nuclear arena at the moment is the Nuclear Energy Policy of 2008, which clearly states that the country intends to pursue the nuclear energy option for electricity generation going into the future. Through this policy, government has committed to nuclear activities that are100% peaceful and adhere to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and other international obligations.

South Africa is now in the implementation phase of its nuclear policy, with the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP2010) playing a vital role in the process. Once the plan is finalised, published and promulgated in the first quarter of 2011, the exact details of the cost of the new fleet, proposed sites and construction timelines will be made known. Top on government’s agenda right now is looking at how it can develop the necessary infrastructure, skills, and legislative and regulatory framework to make the nuclear programme a success.

The Department of Energy has given its firm assurance that the criteria for nuclear plant development is in line with highest international standards, which will ensure that people, property, and the environment are at all times protected against possible threats of radiation.

The first commissioned facility is expected to be up and running by 2022/23, with about 10 000MW of new installed nuclear capacity coming on line by 2030. Although this may seem a long way off, it can take up to 12 years before a single Watt of power is produced from a new plant, so it makes sense to start planning in earnest now. The new fleet will operate with pressurised water reactors – the highly reliable and proven technology used at Koeberg and in France to supply 76.8% of that country’s electricity.

Skills and job potential

A 10 000MW nuclear power programme could support an industry worth R25-billion a year over eight decades, the Department of Energy states. An industry of this size would require about 13 000 workers, with more than 70% being artisans and skilled operators. At the peak of the nuclear plant construction process, 40 000 jobs will be created.

The type of skills that will be amassed in the process will also help develop a knowledge and manufacturing-based economy and see South Africa becoming globally competitive in terms of its design, manufacturing and construction industries.

“One of the important aspects of a nuclear expansion programme is skills development and skills transfer. The majority of our nuclear energy workforce is ageing and for this programme to be sustainable, skills transfer should be emphasised,” Peters said at the roundtable discussion.

“The nuclear industry in South Africa is relatively small, therefore it is important that we retain the talent that we have in this industry. Likewise we must do more to attract, develop and deploy young talent to this industry. The young professionals, together with the employers, must ensure that there are formalised programmes within organisations to effect skills development and transfer.”

Such initiatives, supported by government, are currently being developed to enhance nuclear skills at school, graduate, post-graduate, and professional level, according to the department.

This is a long-term process that will run alongside the development of the new nuclear fleet.

“We do not have the skills base right now, and neither do we require it today. In this regard, the long timeframes of a nuclear programme allow us sufficient time to develop the appropriate skills,” the minister added.

Can we afford a new nuclear fleet?

Nuclear is the only proven baseload electricity supplier that can compete with coal, which is the country’s cheapest source of power – albeit one of the most harmful due to heavy carbon emissions, water pollution, mining accidents and the toll it takes on workers’ health.

What makes a nuclear programme seem unaffordable are the high initial capital costs and length of time needed to bring a new plant on stream. However, once it’s operational, the fuel requirements, operation and maintenance costs are lower than those of a coal-fired station, making it a far more attractive option in the long run.

Because private investors want quick turnaround times with minimal capital outlay, they tend to steer clear of nuclear energy programmes. Initial investment is therefore almost always government-led, as would be the case in South Africa.

What about nuclear waste?

As a signatory to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management, South Africa adheres to the most stringent criteria to ensure individuals, society and the environment are thoroughly protected against the hazards of radioactive waste.

In addition, government is busy setting up the National Radioactive Waste Management Institute to manage disposal on a national basis.

There are three main types of nuclear waste: low-, medium- and high-level.

At the moment South Africa’s high-level waste, mostly consisting of spent nuclear fuel, is stored inside Koeberg itself – but as more plants come on line, alternative ways of managing used fuel have to be adopted. Burying this waste deep underground is the most internationally accepted practice, but first a countrywide study will need to be done to determine the most ideal spot.

Vaalputs, the 10 000ha National Radioactive Waste disposal facility in the sparsely populated near-desert region of Namaqualand, could probably be considered because of its highly suitable and impermeable underground rock formations.

In the future all medium-level waste, such as plant components, filters and resins, will be stored at Vaalputs – as is done with Koeberg’s intermediate waste at the moment.

South Africa is looking at disposing low-level waste – from gloves, clothes, paper and cleaning materials – at the Vaalputs National Radioactive Waste disposal facility.

What about delays in the nuclear build schedule?

We already know that if all goes according to plan, it takes more than a decade to establish a new nuclear plant. It’s therefore logical to consider – and try to prevent – further delays.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, nuclear design experts, construction companies and safety authorities from across the world are sharing information with South Africa so we can learn from other nation’s successes and setbacks in order to implement our own programme timeously.

It’s encouraging to note that some countries in the Far East have even managed to complete nuclear projects sooner than projected.

“There are many concerns regarding nuclear energy construction costs and scheduling internationally. But the truth is that some nuclear projects are actually completed ahead of schedule, implying that there are lessons we have to learn once we embark on a successful nuclear build programme,” Peters said.

SA the leader in low-enriched uranium radioisotopes

South Africa’s nuclear prowess made headlines recently when local company NTP Radioisotopes, a subsidiary of the country’s Nuclear Energy Corporation, became the biggest global supplier of the medical isotope, Molybdenum-99, using low-enriched uranium (LEU).

Such isotopes are used to diagnose and treat medical conditions like heart disease and cancer, and determine organ make-up and function.

In the past, medical isotopes could only be produced using highly enriched or weapons’ grade uranium – which was controversial to say the least, and posed a potential global threat.

The first South African batch of LEU Molybdenum-99 arrived at a Boston, US, medical facility on 6 December and has already been cleared for use on patients. This is the largest shipment of its kind to date.

“We applaud South Africa’s world leadership on minimising the use of highly enriched uranium,” said Gary Samore, a White House nuclear energy official.

“Their choice to move towards LEU-based medical isotope production shows an important confluence between peaceful uses of nuclear technology and nuclear security goals. Years ago we needed highly enriched uranium to provide the isotopes for diagnosis and treatment of disease. Now we can do it without using highly sensitive nuclear materials,” he said.

The US will now channel US$25-million into South Africa to produce further batches of Molybdenum-99 with low-enriched uranium.

“Our recent success in the international isotope market, where we are currently the world leaders in supplying Molybdenum-99, is a clear indication that we can play in the league of the world’s best in the nuclear industry,” Peters said. 

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