Nuclear Debate – Round No 3 as Kemm answers Mileham’s response

By Dr Kelvin Kemm

Mr Kevin Mileham, the DA Shadow Minister responsible for energy produced a harsh response to my video interview with Alec Hogg.

Mr Mileham starts off by pointing out that our “electricity crisis is real and immediate”. Really? Wow, how many citizens have not yet realised that? This is followed by the profound statement that “load-shedding is forcing businesses to close, learners to study in the dark…” He then appeals for a “pragmatic perspective”.

In my interview I appealed for all people to be realistic about the electricity situation. Yes, realistic. Mr Mileham writes as if I am naive and out of touch with reality. He then advocates cancelling any nuclear project now, and instead advocates ‘rooftop solar’. OK, so you are going to run a goldmine and the Blue Train on rooftop solar? Again, I appeal to people to be realistic. Rely on people who actually know how to do the calculations, people who know the difference between MW and MWh, and people who realise that rooftop solar does not work at all at night, and hardly at all on a rainy day.

Mr Mileham states that nuclear build typically takes anywhere from six to eight years. I can nearly agree with that. My opinion is, five years. If we let the engineers get on with it, as I clearly stated in the video.

But Mr Mileham then claims that the actual build is going to be twice that ‘because of mismanagement and corruption’. I made it very clear that the scourge of corruption must be removed from all energy projects, including wind and solar projects. Why must anti-nuclear people always claim that corruption only seems to happen in nuclear…and that many of the seemingly shady IPP wind and solar projects were all squeaky clean.

At least then Mr Mileham says, “I am not opposed to nuclear power”. Great. That is a positive change of heart, because that is not at all what he told me in a dismissive phone conversation a couple of years ago.

Mr Mileham is, sadly, then very dismissive concerning the wonderful developments in Small Modular Reactor (SMR) technology. He does not seem at all proud of the fact that South Africa was the first country in the world to start developing a commercial SMR, and is currently considered a world leader in the field. Mr Mileham then states that the South African-developed HTMR-100 SMR “is not even design approved”. Mr Mileham clearly shows that he is out of touch, and has no idea what is actually going on. Strategic Global (Pty) Ltd can build the HTMR-100 to completion in five years. We are ready to start. Please stop quoting poor US cost figures, to undermine local endeavours, rather look at the successful nuclear projects now underway. Our figures are accurate. We have a world-leading Cape Town financial analyst in our team, and our figures are audited by an actuary in London, plus, believe me, by a number of foreign funders, some of whom have travelled to South Africa to meet us face-to-face. These fellows are international heavy-hitters and don’t let a mouse slip under the door when dealing with financial figures.

In the Alec Hogg videos I appealed to the public to have faith in South Africa’s nuclear professionals. I wish that Mr Mileham and the DA would also show faith in South African nuclear professionals. Mr Milam says, “South Africa did indeed produce quality nuclear professionals for many years”. So why does he think that we have now stopped producing them? He points out that many have left the country. Yes, because other countries realised their quality and want our people. There are currently 160 South Africans working on the construction of the new four-reactor nuclear power station, Barakah, in the UAE. For interest, a number of them have written to us, saying that they are looking forward to coming home, to nuclear jobs in South Africa. By the way, the Barakah financial figures are the ones to look at, they match the ones that South African experts did years ago and which have now been shown to have been accurate.

We now need politicians with foresight who can see the future, and will induce these 160 professionals, plus others in the world, to come home to a thriving nuclear industry. Such an industry can have a massive export potential and thereby earn huge income for the country generally.

Mr Mileham then criticises Koeberg’s Life Extension Project and also says, (For a further 20 years of operation, not 40 as stated by Kemm). Mr Mileham, you don’t pay attention. I said that; after this lifetime upgrade Koeberg will be good for another 40 years. The licence application is for only a further 20 years but the reactor planning, upgrade fabrication, and associated systems will be good for 40 years. The nuclear fellows know what they are doing, and have looked far into the future…way beyond rooftop solar thinking.

Mr Mileham, showing little faith in Koeberg staff, seems to feel that they will fail to get the two reactor systems fully functional by July 2024. I know what is going on there and they are doing very well. This is one of the largest and most complex nuclear upgrades ever carried out in the world. All South Africans should be proud of what those guys have achieved, amidst a barrage of anti-nuclear sentiment coming from anti-nuclear groups, frequently funded by foreign sources. Sadly, the antagonistic barrage has also often been fanned by much of the media. The DA frequently seems to side with the extremists, which is a bit odd bearing in mind that Cape Town is one of the few cities in the world which is 100% nuclear-powered. By the way, interesting fact, Koeberg has the largest electrical generators in Africa. These systems need very careful attention which is what the staff there are providing.

Mr Mileham then quotes a cost of $4500 per kWe to build the 2500 MW nuclear as currently proposed for South Africa. That figure is approximately correct, thankfully, since the anti-nuclear crowd always tend to quote two to three times more, and come up with mythical figures, like a Trillion Rand, which they also tend to imply will be spent, once-off in one year, and not over 10 to 15 years, as was the original plan. Such tactics are clearly designed to scare the public, and definitely not to inform them. It is time that the Sandal Brigade pulled their socks up. But sadly, Mr Mileham then has to stick his knife in and say, excluding; ‘corruption and cost overruns, etc’. Oh no, not again….. Incidentally Koeberg produces South Africa’s cheapest electricity, by far.

Mr Mileham says that ‘he doubts’ that any nuclear procurement deal of 2015, had it gone ahead, would be operational now. Mr Mileham, don’t doubt, rather ask the professionals. We would have had one plant larger than Koeberg running, and quite possibly a second one too.

There would have been no load shedding.

Mr Mileham accuses me of saying that the renewables are hardly contributing to South Africa’s problem. I am correct I’m happy to repeat it. Remember, you don’t get solar at night or on rainy days, and you only get wind power when the wind blows, with a very varying output. This situation is terrible for the National Control Centre to manage, compounding load-shedding. Furthermore, renewables have introduced other problems, like diverting money from Eskom and municipalities, thereby adding to the financial woes of many citizens. Electricity tax, which used to go to the municipality, now goes to foreign suppliers and banks instead. The rooftop solar or factory solar pays the Bank not the municipality, so potholes become larger. Then of course, Mr Mileham points out, correctly, that huge transmission lines need to be built at huge expense to get the solar power from the Northern Cape to consumption centres like Johannesburg. That is correct. So why are those transmission line costs not being added to the cost of renewables? Why do people insist on faking the renewable costs by overlooking the necessary added system costs, which are critical to the function of renewables? There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, even for renewables. Somebody down the line is paying for it, and that person is the consumer.

Mr Mileham says, “A solution 5 or 10 years down the line needs to take a backseat”. No, no, no. If five years ago we had looked five years ahead, we would not be in such trouble now. I have repeatedly stated, in public, that the nation has: a six month and a six year challenge. Stop looking at only six months (in constant half-year jumps) and look ahead as well. It is the six year vision which attracts international investors. It is the six year vision which gives confidence to local industrialists contemplating expansions.

No, Mr Mileham, a new nuclear build now is not a “pie-in-the-sky Vanity Project”. It is what sensible people should be doing, and we should be moving faster than we are now.

Mr Mileham scorns ‘Megaprojects’ but they are where all the job creation really lies, and that is where the GDP growth really lies. Rooftop solar will not build the Nation, that is small-time thinking.

We need politicians and business leaders to have the courage and foresight that we used to see in the past. Where are the leaders who have the mega-vision to initiate megaprojects? We don’t want 115 CEO’s who sign a document to ‘undertake to help fix the nation’s problems’ but then sit and wait for real leaders to actually do something. ‘Cometh the hour, cometh the man’. The hour is well and truly here, right now.

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