South Africa faces a myriad of energy challenges, exacerbated by a growing number of both external and internal forces.
Answers to questions about our future prosperity are needed, and North-West University (NWU) is committed to finding sustainable solutions for South Africa’s energy needs.
One of the answers lies in further research and development of our nuclear energy infrastructure.
The Faculty of Engineering of the NWU houses the DST/NRF SARChI research chair for nuclear technology, the only research chair for nuclear technology in South Africa.
The NWU is also the only university in South Africa with a PhD program in Nuclear Engineering. The aim of the chair is to conduct world-class research and contribute to the training of highly qualified nuclear engineers, scientists and technologists to meet the needs of the country.
The Director and Vice Chancellor of the NWU, Dr Bismark Tyobeka, is a world-renowned nuclear energy expert, who has held the position of CEO of South Africa’s National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) since 2013, and he plays a key role in various initiatives of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
He has also served on the International Advisory Committees on Nuclear Safety (INSAG) of the IAEA and as Vice-Chairman of both the International Nuclear Regulatory Cooperation Forum (RCF) and the Forum for Nuclear Regulatory Bodies in Africa (FNRBA).
According to him, nuclear power will play an integral role in South Africa’s energy package, along with coal and renewables such as wind and solar.
“Nuclear and coal-fired power plants are currently the main generation sources, providing so-called baseload electricity, in other words units that can generate uninterrupted electricity around the clock. This is not the case with other sources such as wind, sun and hydropower.”
“I believe we need a balanced energy mix that encompasses everything. In view of South Africa’s international commitments to climate change mitigation efforts, unfortunately and in due course we will have to phase out coal as we know it and hopefully introduce clean coal technologies to reduce emissions.”
dr. Tyobeka, who was recently nominated to represent South Africa on the Senior Industry Advisory Panel (SIAP) of the Generation IV International Forum (GIF), goes on to say that a systematic and cautious approach to implementing “new” energy sources is best not to disrupt the economies of developing countries:
“There must be a gradual and phased approach to the transition of coal, ensuring that such phasing out does not adversely affect the social and economic well-being of developing countries, especially given that we still have an abundance of coal reserves have in South Africa.”
“If we wake up tomorrow and say no coal, imagine how the economies of provinces like Mpumalanga and Limpopo would be devastated.”
However, he is adamant that the importance of investment in nuclear energy cannot be denied.
“The future for nuclear looks bright but requires innovative financing approaches as governments cannot be left alone to bear the risks of nuclear energy projects.”
“It would bankrupt governments if we don’t allow other players to come in and invest in nuclear projects in the form of public-private partnerships.”
“In South Africa, especially with the massive energy security challenges we have faced in recent months, it cannot be argued that nuclear power cannot provide a sustainable solution – in the medium to long term – to our electricity needs.”
Moreover, the well-being of future generations depends on the energy decisions made now.
“Given that the new plants can run for up to 80 years, this means that a careful investment in a balanced energy mix, with nuclear energy as an important component, can solve energy problems for future generations and stimulate economic growth.”
“But there are prerequisites for all of these, such as setting up a solid framework for public-private partnerships to fund the projects, a strong nuclear regulatory framework, which we already have fortunately, increased investment in skills development for both exploitation and the maintenance of nuclear power plants and strong local participation of industries for localization purposes.”
“We also need to have transparent and cost-effective procurement processes for a public buy-in.”
In a world where our reliance on fossil fuels harms our environment and our current energy infrastructures struggle to bear the expense, waiting for others to take the initiative will come at the expense of our shared future. The NWU is now addressing this issue.
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By: Bertie Jacobs