The South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) believes that, as South Africa requires an increasing baseload electricity supply, nuclear is the best option in terms of electricity generation technology.
“In South Africa, baseload electricity can only be supplied by hydro, coal, gas or nuclear energy. However, we have no further significant hydropower potential. Coal-based generation is carbon intensive and continued expansion thereof will go against government’s climate change mitigation stance. We do not have long-term access to large gas reserves and, even then, it is an expensive option. We also do not regard renewable- energy technologies as suitable baseload supply technologies for many years to come.
This leaves nuclear power as our only reliable, economically viable, technologically proven, long-term source of clean baseload energy,” says the corporation.
The two Koeberg units have been running very well and still have a long period of safe and reliable operation ahead of them in terms of both their design and operating licences.
Necsa says that nuclear power plants will only be phased out after a long and well-planned operating life, and having delivered reliable baseload electricity to homes and industry in a cost-efficient and environment-friendly way. The current international fleet of reactors of the Koeberg type is licensed to operate for at least 40 years – some of them for up to 60 years.
“However, South Africa’s future electricity supply has to incorporate both nuclear and renewable if we are to meet our Copenhagen commitments to reduce carbon emissions sustainably. In this regard, State-owned power utility Eskom has signed two independent power producer agreements with suppliers, with more agreements in the pipeline. The South African energy industry is also looking forward to the release of the next draft of the integrated resource plan for public comment, in the near future. This document is expected to give guidance regarding the desired future energy mix, which includes nuclear,” explains Necsa.
Further, the corporation says that the health risks associated with living in close proximity to a nuclear power station are extremely low.
A finding known as the ‘healthy worker effect’ states that workers in the nuclear industry tend to be healthier than the general population. This is most likely because a condition of their employment is that a medi- cal doctor examines them regularly. The background levels of radiation are also much higher in Johannesburg, owing to higher natural cosmic radiation at high altitude, compared with living next door to Koeberg.
“Potential risks to workers are fully moni- tored and controlled within country and international guidelines, probably more so than in most other industries. International practices, closely followed by South African organisations, have even become stricter over time,” adds Necsa.
However, if it is proven that the health of nuclear plant workers, as well as other South African workers, is adversely affected in the course of their work, the corporation says that there are standard and legislated mechanisms in place for workers seeking compensation.
Further, Necsa says that the uranium- mining industry, which fuels the nuclear industry, is very well regulated in terms of health risks.
“However, it should also be remembered that all mining operations have inherent health and other risks. Those of uranium mining are well understood and regulated well, in addition to normal mining safety regulations,” the corporation adds.
Low-enriched uranium, less than 5% U-235, will be used to manufacture the fuel elements for new nuclear power stations in South Africa.
The fuel is designed to achieve maximum energy extraction from the uranium under economic conditions in the reactor. A nuclear power plant with a capacity of 1 000 MW will discharge around 25 t of spent fuel every 18 months, producing about 16 m3 of waste. A similar-sized coal plant would use three-million tons of coal and produce about one-million tons of ash, apart from a significant amount of carbon dioxide.
Necsa explains that nuclear waste produced by future nuclear power plants will be disposed of in the same manner as waste produced by the Koeberg power station. The low- and intermediate-level waste produced will be diposed of at the national radioactive waste disposal facility, Vaalputs, about 100 km south of Springbok, in the Northern Cape. The small quantity of used nuclear fuel from the Koeberg reactors is stored on site at the plant.
Necsa is strategically driven within three operational clusters, with research and development and innovation as its primary mandate.
Nuclear Power Cluster
This cluster is responsible for Necsa’s nuclear fuel development and production activities, as well as projects that support the South African nuclear power programme. Necsa’s priorities regarding the nuclear power cluster are to influence and repond to requirements of South Africa’s nuclear energy new build programme, including skills development, develop a uranium beneficiation and nuclear fuel programme and a competence in the manufacture of components for nuclear reactors, with the intent to enter the global supply chain.
Radiation Science and Applications Cluster
This cluster includes radiation sciences research and development as well as supporting sciences, such as applied chemistry, nuclear physics and analytical services, as well as the research facilities offered by the SAFARI-1 reactor. Necsa’s priorities in this regard include driving innovation at the interface between nuclear technology and the biosciences and advancing the position, as the premier global supplier of radiosotopes based on low-enriched uranium of NTP, Necsa’s commercial subsidiary producer and supplier of radio chemicals.
Necsa as Host of Nuclear Programmes Cluster
This cluster refers to Necsa’s capacity to house nuclear programmes owing to its distinct inte- grated system of capabilities, which include safeguards management, nuclear security, licensing, medical and emergency services.