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Following the court decision judging the Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) between South Africa and Russia's state-owned nuclear company Rosatom unlawful, Energy Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi told Parliament's energy committee the department would be looking into an appeal. The ANC’s head of economics, Enoch Godongwana, however, told the media that the government would have to re-think its nuclear expansion programme in the same week.

Nuclear debate continues“Surely in the light of the junk status we will have to revise our expenditure patterns as government. If we do nuclear we must do it at a scope and pace which is affordable,” Godongwana said. Yet Kubayi told Parliament: “Do we have to appeal the judgment? We are looking at those options.”

Godongwana referred to the country’s downgrade to junk status as a primary reason for a different approach. Predicted to cost billions of Rand, the nuclear build will be impossible to fund without a favourable credit rating.

Nuclear power consultant Andrew Kenny believes that the country should continue pursuing its nuclear goals, despite these setbacks. The technical and economic arguments in favour of nuclear power are frequently presented to the public, but the moral arguments seldom are, he told delegates at the recent Nuclear Africa 2017 conference.

“The path of technical progress would be smooth and happy if we simply had to answer this question: Which technology will bring the most benefit and the least cost to man and the environment?
Unfortunately many technological choices are caught up in politics, ideology and morality.
Nuclear power must learn to deal with this. So far, it has not. This is tragic, because nuclear power has the strongest moral case of all energy sources, including renewable energy,” he said.

“In South Africa, and much of the world, a green dogma proclaims that nuclear is dangerous, expensive, huge, centralised and immoral and that “renewables” (usually meaning wind and solar) are safe, economic, small, local and moral. This is the inverse of the truth, easy to refute. But nuclear advocates do not refute it very well at all.”

According to him, renewables have proven themselves “horribly expensive and unreliable”. He cites the examples of Germany and South Australia, where reliance on renewables has increased energy prices, as cautionary tales. In addition, Kenny says that we may know the price of renewables, but the cost is much higher than common perception allows.

“Perhaps the worst dishonesty about renewables is that they are ‘small’ and ‘localised’. On the contrary, they are gigantic and highly centralised. Wind turbines require ten times as much concrete and steel per kW as does nuclear. Wind turbines and solar arrays are typically built far away from the centres of demand, requiring hundreds of kilometres of transmission lines,” he says.

“Nuclear is sustainable indefinitely, because there is so much nuclear fuel in the ground and the sea. It is extremely reliable. It is economic everywhere and is often the cheapest source of electricity. It can be sited wherever you want, since the total nuclear fuel required is tiny in quantity and is easy to transport; so it can be localised. Nuclear power is very clean, emitting no noxious gases in operation, and few over the whole energy cycle. If rising CO2 worries you - although the scientific grounds for your worry are scanty - nuclear is the best technology for reducing CO2 emissions.”

Image  credit: Copyright: nobeastsofierce / 123RF Stock Photo

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