SA NEEDS a "Plan B" in case nuclear energy proves too expensive, sufficient financing proves to be unavailable, or the timelines are too tight, says the National Development Plan.
The government’s energy master plan — the 2010 Integrated Resources Plan — envisages the construction of six to eight nuclear power plants to generate 9,600MW of energy, over the next 10 to 15 years.
Estimates on the cost of such a nuclear build programme range from R300bn to about R1-trillion. The development plan’s chapter on infrastructure points to a number of alternative energy sources that should be examined, and also calls for a reduction in the country’s reliance on coal as a primary source of electricity.
"All possible alternatives need to be explored, including the use of gas, which could provide reliable base load and mid-merit power generation through combined-cycle gas turbines. Gas turbines can be invested in incrementally to match demand growth."
The argument put forward by the National Planning Commission for a " Plan B" was that while the operational costs of alternative sources of energy were arguably higher than those of nuclear stations, their unit capital costs were cheaper and they were more easily financed and more able to adjust their output to make up the shortfall from variable renewable energy sources.
The commission has also called for a proper cost-benefit analysis of the nuclear build programme. National planning commissioner Tasneem Essop said during a briefing yesterday that it did not matter who conducted such an exercise.
"With respect to the nuclear recommendation, we don’t specify who should do a cost-benefit analysis, but that a cost-benefit analysis must be done," she said.
Ms Essop also suggested that the commission would be able to advise the government on the nuclear build programme.
The commission recommended that the shale gas option should be explored, as long as the gas could be extracted in a safe manner and would cause less pollution than coal. But it said this would take time to develop. It recommends that west coast gas resources should be developed, and investments made in liquefied natural gas import infrastructure, as insurance for the future.