Debate on Pros & Cons of Nuclear Energy in South Africa

By Mntumni Nosicelo posted 09-23-2017 01:10

Nuclear Energy

Nuclear energy has always been a contentious issue for all the world economies, especially for the developing ones. Some environmentalists have been advocating against the use of nuclear power by citing its long term hazards from the radioactive waste, while on the other hand some environmentalists have openly thrown their support behind the continued use of nuclear energy and citing the threat of global warming because of the use of excessive conventional energy resources.

However, we can’t ignore the threats with the nuclear energy, but at the same time, the need of surplus energy to run the economy can’t be ignored on any grounds as well. So for the latter reason, economies developing economies like—South Africa, India, Brazil and many more are embracing this nuclear technology to satiate their energy needs. Well, this write-up will specifically focus on the scope of nuclear technology in South Africa.

First, let’s begin the current scenario of nuclear energy in South Africa—

• It has two nuclear reactors contributing 5 % of the electricity.
• First commercial nuclear power reactor commissioned in 1984.
• Until 2014, only 14 TWh power is being produced by nuclear technology.
• The government is committed to produce another 1300 MWe from nuclear technology
• Largest energy producer ESCOM has put his voice in favor and prepared a roadmap of it.

It seems like ESCOM appears to be much interested in building large nuclear power stations than signing in new agreements with power producers which use conventional fuels, like—Coal and Oil to produce energy. And yes their argument is pretty much in favor of the increasing demands of power in South Africa. Today, South Africa is a global village and it simply can’t burn coal regardless of the consequences to water use, pollution, health, and climate change. Well, when the whole world is going towards cleaner energy options, it is the responsibility of South Africa to also embrace nuclear technology to satiate its power needs and prepare grounds for it.

Anyways, any world economy knows that coal sector is on the decline, and they have to move away from coal to a cleaner, low-carbon future, both locally and globally.
As if not, everyone in South Africa is advocating for the use of nuclear energy program of South Africa, as they are stricken with negative perception that things will behind closed doors, due-process will not be followed, and expecting some sinister motives. Well, this perception can be true or not, but actually, need to be dealt with a discussion.

Some of the environmentalists here are expressing their fear by quoting what happened with Fukushima nuclear power plant following the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan. But they have to think that every nation has its own geographical limitations and in case of South Africa, our geographical conditions are in favor of using nuclear technology and prone to the threat like these.

Undoubtedly, a move towards nuclear technology has some ramifications in the economy of South Africa like the jobs fall out in Coal mining and coal road transport sectors, which is very inevitable as ESCOM is preparing to decommissions its ageing coal fleet and in the quest to replace it with some cleaner and efficient technologies, such as renewable energy, gas, hydro, and nuclear.

But the question here is what next? How do we deal with these socioeconomic consequences to develop a competitive, inclusive, and growing overall economy, and to replace smoke-stack industry jobs with better, higher value-adding jobs in a new, modern and clean economy.

Apart from these socio economic problems, political consensus is acting one of the major impediments in adopting clean energy fuel in producing power in South Africa. All the opposition parties, including Democratic alliance, Economic freedom fighters have been rallied against President Jacob for his views on nuclear energy. His views are very much in the support on the adoption of nuclear energy; indeed, he argued that nuclear energy would bring profits and dividends for South Africa in the thousand years to come. However, he clarified that the use of nuclear will be restricted to peaceful purposes, but his opponents trying to create a fear among the natives that the main purpose to bring nuclear technology is to make war heads.

Despite the clarification of Mr. President that the move to appreciate the nuclear energy is for the prosperity of the nation not for this personal gain, the opposition is showing no signs of retreat and increasing the pressure on him to stop every effort to launch this technology in the mainstream.

But by keeping criticism aside, the president allow ESCOM to go ahead with the tender of 1 trillion for the expansion of its nuclear power plant and asked them to procure an additional of 9,600 megawatts (MW) of capacity, and assured that South Africa will itself with all the required infrastructure and technology to harness nuclear power. And anyway, when all this has happened in other parts of the world, and it’s not unthinkable that it could happen in South Africa too.
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