South African scientists vouch for viability of nation's nuclear ambitions

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The South African nuclear build program will develop at a speed and price that the nation can afford, potentially generating 9,600 megawatts of electricity within the next 10 years, President Jacob Zuma said recently, though some have questioned whether such nuclear ambitions are outstripping economic realities.

“The government has been conducting a number of studies on the affordability of the new build nuclear programme,” Dr. Anthonie Cilliers, from North West University’s School of Mechanical & Nuclear Engineering, said. “It is, however, important to assure this to the public. In the past year, a perception has been left in the media that the nuclear program will go ahead without any knowledge of the cost and responsibilities that come with it. I hope the president’s comments will help to change this perception.”

Zuma made these statements during his State of the Nation address, as he tried to paint a picture of a nuclear future for South Africa.

“Contrary to popular sentiment, the process of 9,600 MW of nuclear procurement has been extremely open and transparent,” Cilliers said. “The vendor parades were well documented within the confidentiality constraints of a competitive bidding process. The government canceled an unaffordable tender process in 2009, indicating the commitment to affordability. I want to emphasise what the president said. We remain committed to the 9600 MW of nuclear new build, but we will do it at a scale and pace the country can afford -- that is what we should so.”

Nuclear power is considered the safest option for the future of electricity in South Africa.

“Contrary to what people think and believe, nuclear power provides by far the safest option,” states Professor Johan Slabber, professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Pretoria, said. “It also compares virtually on a one-to-one basis with coal when it comes to costs. Although the capital cost is somewhat higher to start with, its running cost is much lower.”

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