Load shedding is the best advocate for a reliable nuclear facility
It may be somewhat early to be too dogmatic about the prospects for the coming winter but the warning message broadcast every evening on DStv channels, to reduce electricity usage, does not bode well for the coming months.
More than one expert, either on energy or on weather, forecast a dismal picture for southern Africa in terms of electricity redundancy. As a matter of fact, redundancy is a dirty word and South Africa’s power utility has already warned that load shedding, or a modified form of it, is inevitable. The learned Eskom leadership ascribes this to their maintenance schedule, but the more sober analysts realise the utility simply cannot supply its own users, especially during the coldest part of the winter. Where does that leave us, who are also dependant on Eskom for about two thirds of our electricity during peak time.
Warning signals like these always make me wonder what have we been doing for the past twenty years. It must have been that long ago that I wrote a power station does not get built in one year, and not too far into the future, we shall need more than just one power station.
In the meantime, a new cadre of management comrades has taken over at Eskom and the results we see every winter. But this brief reality check does not relieve us of the responsibility to eventually generate all our own power, and then some.
I suspect that probably we will continue debating Epupa and Kudu for another decade before a lack of energy forces us to face the reality we need more electricity capacity and we need it fast. Which brings me to nuclear.
Already I hear the chorus of indignant no-sayers hysterically quoting this and that studies to help me mend my erring vision. How can one ever consider nuclear as an energy source given Fukushima, and the German government’s stated intention of cutting down, and eventually abolishing nuclear. Uninformed activists are usually very vocal and very fast to denounce nuclear always quoting the same irrational fears of radioactive fall-out, but they are slow to propose solutions.
In this line of debate, renewables are always punted as the energy source of the future, but nobody has the guts to define the limits of that future. Renewables can at this stage only be seen as ancillary, and the future the activists see may be 30, 40 or even 50 years from now. Meanwhile, there is a surging economy across Africa, and it will require truckloads of energy, and ever more of it.
We are ideally positioned to become a significant energy producer in the Southern African Power Pool but for that to happen, we need to focus our mental energy on a technology that can actually produce results. And unless some very clever scientist soon finds a way of turning hydrogen into captured energy on an industrial scale, at a tariff that we can actually afford, coal and oil will remain the most important energy sources for a few more decades.
The activists must be honest. Fukushima will be rebuilt and even more new nuclear power stations will be built in Japan. In China, estimates for new nuclear stations for the next 20 years range between 150 and 250. And the Germans must also be honest in this debate: It is very easy to appease their own electorate by promising a nuclear shutdown if you have a southern neighbour, France, that is only too keen to sell you whatever energy you need. And in France, or Poland, or Russia, there is no talk of downsizing.
The technology for a variety of nuclear power stations are readily available. We only need to pick which one we want. And as far as the locations goes, we have about 1500 km of coastline, any stretch of which can easily host a nuclear power station.
Personally I would chose the area just north of Lüderitzbucht. There is enough space, enough cold seawater, and it is close enough to existing distributions infrastructure so that the electricity can enter the regional grid without adding substantial new costs other than the direct cost of building it. Nobody will know it is there except a few hundred thousand sea lions and maybe the odd ostrich.
This will remove the pressure to develop Kudu against all odds, and it will keep the Himba graveyards intact. There are also zero cross-border issues, and it is far enough away from Swakopmund so they not need to worry about spoiling their precious desert.
A nuclear energy plant is a non-invasive technology. Perhaps the most attractive part of the whole scheme is the fact that we can bully the Chinese to do the enrichment for us, free of charge, right here in our own desert. I would love to be the one who throws the switch.