SA signs nuclear deal with Russia

And it’s a biggie. Fifty billion of your American Dollars. Instantly, there were two camps mobilised on social media; Firstly, there were those that were opposed to the it because of the sudden and apparently clandestine nature of the agreement, and the inevitable palm-greasing opportunities it provides for the 72nd and 127th ranked nations on the Corruption Perceptions Index 2013.
And then secondly, there were those who were opposed to it because of Chernobyl. Ugh.

I can’t do much about the first problem. As South Africans, we’re (sadly) naturally conditioned to assume that any governmental activity is, in some way, ethically flawed in a financial sense. Of course, the truth is that quite a lot of governmental activity is corrupt. You’d probably have to ask someone with more time and more love for statistics than me to find out “exactly” how much. (Try AfricaCheck or Ivo Vegter.)

However, that doesn’t mean that all governmental activity works that way. But, the assumption is to assume corruption first, and then continue to assume corruption even when there’s no proof. That’s a rod that the ANC has made for its own back and it’s going to be a difficult rod to remove.

The second issue irritates me. While Chernobyl (which actually in is Ukraine, of course, not Russia) was obviously a catastrophic incident, it’s been 10,378 days since that fateful day and I think I’m pretty much safe in saying no further Russian Soviet nuclear power plants have blown up in the intervening period. It’s also a bit foolish to assume that Soviet Russian technology hasn’t moved on during those 28½ years.
Likewise, Harland and Wolff is still a going concern, despite having built the Titanic (#NeverForget).

Things change.

What I don’t think people have considered is the alternatives to Russian nuclear power. We could do solar, but I’ve been doing some rudimentary calculations and I reckon that to achieve the 9.6GW capacity planned for this nuclear thing, we’d need something about 33 times the size of the current largest solar park in the world. That would cover 32,043 hectares and would cost about $33 billion. Oh, and since solar only operates at about 25% (Agua Caliente’s nameplate capacity is 290MW, but its average production is just 71MW, because “cloud” and “dark”) we’d never actually get near the 9.6GW anyway.

Wind, then? At 3MW per massive 145 metre (90m hub + 55m blade) turbine, you’d need 3,200 turbines! And that’s assuming 100% efficiency. Wind farms don’t do 100% efficiency. Wind farms only do about 30% efficiency (and I’m being nice here). So basically 10,000 turbines to guarantee that 9.6GW figure. If you’ve seen the blot on the landscape that is the Dassiesklip Wind Farm near Caledon, you’ll see how much of an eyesore just 9 (nine) turbines can be. And how much space they take up.
Dream on.

So…
Tidal, wave? Laughable.
Coal? No-one like coal.
Beaglegas? Far too dangerous. Makes Chernobyl look like an ideal day out for the local primary school.
Natural gas from fracking? Makes perfect sense, but the bunnyhuggers don’t like it.

Of course, the bunnyhuggers don’t like nuclear either, but they don’t seem to be able to come up with any viable alternatives. Alternatives, yes, but not viable ones. They might as well suggest a big team of hamsters on bikes.

But the nuclear deal seems to be all signed and sealed, so I suppose that my pontificating or that of anyone else is of little consequence. I think nuclear is a good way to go. I just hope it’s done right, without backhanders and naughtiness.

4 thoughts on “SA signs nuclear deal with Russia

  1. Finally, someone with a head on his shoulders. There is a place in the energy mix for renewables of course, but they simply require far too big a piece of real estate to be viable on any large scale. You think fracking is going to frack up the Karoo? But you’re willing to plant large silicon-based panels over the top of 50% of it? Just what do you think that’s going to do to what little plant life there is?

    Let’s be honest here, we need energy from somewhere. And there simply isn’t a technology that I’m aware of that is 100% perfect. Nuclear requires very little space, creates very little in the way of waste product, but is very expensive. But given the combined costs of Medupi and Kusile, it’s not that much more expensive than coal…

  2. Gary > I’d love to get all our energy from wind and sun, but it simply isn’t feasible. The technology isn’t there yet. Horrible inefficiencies mean that yes, we’d need a MASSIVE amount of space to make it viable. Give it another n years and things will hopefully have moved on. But right now, those lovely clean renewables are not going to help us. That said, I’m working on one big solar panel which will fit over the entirety of Zimbabwe. Two birds and all that.

    The issue of corruption is real though. Nuclear is expensive. Plenty of opportunities for a little siphoning here and there.

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