Nuclear power is safe, economical, and necessary, said Necsa chairman Dr Kelvin Kemm. Nuclear safety training is part of the new pebble bed plan.
Among the hurdles to South African nuclear electricity generation technology, are lack of self-confidence; and a conspiracy by global anti-nuclear activists to use the ‘Green’ agenda to retard African growth, said Dr Kemm in the annual open lecture at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) School of Engineering and Built Environment in August 2016.
Several universities have already collaborated in developing a proto qualification standard for a nuclear engineering degree, including nuclear safety, health, and quality management modules.
However the curriculum initiative of four years ago, was linked to a former government plan to buy Russian nuclear technology, which had since lapsed, said UJ engineering head Prof Andre Nel, who hosted the lecture.
“Sadly, there has been no interest among post-graduate engineering and built environment students in the proposed programme.” However some of the modules may now be revived, including nuclear health and safety training, Prof Nel said.
Several African countries have confirmed that they would adopt nuclear power technology, and would need nuclear engineers, technologists and operators.
By August 2016, Eskom had already given R447-m to six universities to raise conventional nuclear technology skills. More universities may apply for Eskom nuclear skills grants.
Dr Kemm, who is chairman of the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa), presented evidence that South Africa had the resources to refine existing pebble bed nuclear reactor technology, and build a series of medium-sized pebble-bed nuclear power generators to supplement Koeberg.
Some conventional nuclear power plants are already in the Eskom build programme, to spread power supply, and the resultant economy, across South Africa. Relying only on the problematic old and new coal power stations near the resources in Mpumalanga and northern KZN, did not make engineering sense, he said.
In the lecture, titled ‘Nuclear Power Perception: Smoke, Mirrors and Reality, the nuclear physicist demonstrated how European powers patronised Africa as an eternal backwater; how public opinion could exaggerate radiation levels equal to background radiation into imaginary occupational health horrors; and how little impact the major nuclear disasters of the past have had on public health, safety, and the environment.
The generally legislated safe limit for occupational nuclear radiation exposure at work is 20 mili-Sieverts per year, yet a total dose of 100 mili-Sieverts, and even 400 mili-Sieverts, have not been proven to have any harmful effects. The immediate fallout from the Fukushima nuclear reactor in Japan, was only 20 mili-Sieverts on site.
Koeberg in the Western Cape was built to withstand an even greater potential tsunami than the one that destroyed Fukushima.
Uranium mining and enrichment are already within South African expertise and resources. Dr Kemm said some of the pebble bed nuclear expertise gained during the abortive attempt some years ago, remained in South Africa, and could be re-activated.
South African nuclear power skills
He noted that the nuclear waste disposal facility at Vaalputs was run by South Africans; that several engineering companies could supply the precision parts required for both types of nuclear technology; and that the environmental and quality management skills required already existed in the local aviation and defence sectors.
“Every country and region with surplus electricity, is wealthy. There is no other way for Africa to grow its economy and jobs, except by raising its power supplies. Some other developing nations want us to succeed, and they would follow. We do not have to import everything,” said Dr Kemm.
The first new conventional nuclear power plant site would probably be Thyspunt. Uranium mining at Beaufort West is being revived.
The cost of a nuclear power programme would be about R650-b, cheaper than other options with the same delivery, and much cheaper than the public had been led to believe, with a figure of R1-trillion having gained popular belief.
For R650-b, South Africa could build three power stations, each with two reactors.
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