Shock KZN nuclear plan
June 04 2007 at 11:11AM
By Heinz de Boer
Eskom is investigating the setting up of a nuclear power station on the KwaZulu-Natal coast in a move that has alarmed environmentalists who have warned of major safety and nuclear waste risks.
The energy supplier’s startling revelation was made on Friday when senior provincial Eskom officials said the long-term nuclear option was being seriously considered to help rescue the province’s diminishing energy base.
Environmental organisations have, however, slammed the initiative, saying it was “ridiculous” for the government to consider the nuclear power option after Koeberg’s recent shutdown debacle.
“At least 90 percent of the country’s electricity is produced by coal. We are researching initiatives on how else we can generate supply and are actively looking at nuclear reactors. If in the end it proves to be technically viable the reactor would probably be situated on the coast as we have no power stations along the coast,” transmission east grid manager Justice Marabwa said.
Eskom’s investigations into nuclear energy comes amid massive plans to curb transmission faults, bring a new hydro-electric station into commission before 2012 and manage KZN’s potential for massive power outages.
Some of South Africa’s major industrial power users are in KZN – a province that by Eskom’s own admission has experienced a massive electricity load growth while the infrastructure and generating capacity has remained the same.
If given the go ahead, Eskom would, according to its published research, most likely invest in a coastal pebble bed modular reactor (PBMR) for KZN. Eskom would ideally want to build reactors close to the major energy sapping industrial areas, which include Richards Bay, Durban and Empangeni.
A typical pebble bed complex of 10 reactors would produce 1100 MW of electricity and occupy an area the size of three football fields. The buildings would stand about six storeys high while spent fuel would be stored in existing nuclear waste disposal sites at Vaalputs in the Northern Cape.
Environmentalists are, however, unconvinced. National campaign co-ordinator for Earthlife SA Maya Aberman said PBMR technology was far from mature and South Africa would be wise to learn from mistakes made internationally. More effort should rather be focused on developing renewable energy resources and managing available energy, she said. She cited Germany, where the equivalent of 50 percent of South Africa’s energy requirements is generated from wind.
“Our R16-billion PBMR project has dragged on for 10 years. There has been a lot of concern associated with PBMR internationally and we would firstly be worried about safety. One has the human factor to consider, and studies have found that in most of the nuclear incidents human error was to blame. One only has to look at Koeberg and negligence surrounding the ‘loose bolt’ that led to a partial shut down last year.” Aberman said.
Provincial Department of Economic Development spokesperson Mashu Cele said that generally, government would welcome any boost in power production.
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