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In this paper, we examine the case for nuclear power in South Africa as evaluated in the IRP. We identify the key factors determining the cost of a kWh of nuclear electricity and we examine the nuclear options available to South Africa. We base the options on those being investigated in the most recent attempt to launch a new nuclear programme including vendors from the countries that South Africa had signed, or expected to sign, an Intergovernmental Agreement. We include only options that are expected to meet the standards required in Europe and North America.T
The IRP has been updated several times since the original version was published in2010 and promulgated 2011, but subsequent versions have not been promulgated and are therefore not official policy. The most recently published version of August 2018 was a draft open for comments for 60 days from its publication.
None of the previous versions of the IRP have found nuclear power to be part of the least cost plan, at least before 2037 but in each case, the government has overruled the model results imposing a 9.6GW (6-8 new reactors) nuclear power programme to be in operation by 2030 via a ‘ministerial determination’.
It is legitimate for the government to overrule the model. However, it is important, if the process is to be legitimate; for the reasons for this overruling to be made explicit; and the additional costs this will place on electricity consumers, which should be proportionate to the objective the policy is intended to achieve, to be identified.
The August 2018 draft does not find that nuclear power is part of the least cost plan and no ministerial determination has been made to it to force nuclear in but since this is a draft, the government could yet decide, following the consultation, to re-impose a nuclear programme. If it does this, in order for the cost of this overruling to be identified accurately, it is important that the variables that determine the cost of nuclear power are as accurate as possible. In addition, the IRP is described as a ‘living plan’ and many of the values of the variables will be passed on for subsequent updates, so it is important that errors are not perpetuated.
In spite of the use of grossly unrealistically low nuclear construction cost estimates, none of the versions of the IRP published have found a case for inclusion of new nuclear plants. Nuclear has been forced into the plan by‘ministerial determinations’. There has never been a clear case for these interventions that specifies the policy objectives the nuclear programme will achieve or the cost to electricity consumers of not choosing the ‘least cost’option. Ministerial interventions are legitimate but must always be justified answering the questions why and at what cost.