Nuclear Power Outstrips Other Energy Sources in the Race for Long-Term Answers

Article excerpt

Early last year the Department of Energy's Integrated Resource Plan committee determined that by 2030 SA must have installed no less than 56 539 megawatts of new generating plant. This is 25 percent more than all the plant operating today and a jaw-dropping commitment.

The new plant is to include 16 383MW of coal-fired plant, 7 300MW of gas, 9 200MW of wind, 9 600MW of solar plant and the same of nuclear. For comparison, Eskom's two massive coal-fired plants now under construction will each contribute 4 330MW.

On this page on April 17, Peter Haylett ("The case against nuclear power[bar]") reopens the debate on economic grounds. Referring to the 2011 report of the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), he quotes the following energy cost estimates: nuclear $113.9 per megawatt-hour, coal $94.8 and gas $66.1. He does not reveal to those worried about CO2 that coal with carbon capture and storage comes in at $136.2 and gas at $89.3. Or that the $66.1 is based on a US gas price depressed by fracking. Doubling the gas price in a notoriously volatile market would virtually double the gas generation cost.

The EIA report gives projected generation costs for plant commissioned in 2016. It contains other interesting data. On- and offshore wind come in at $97 and $243.2 respectively, solar photovoltaic and solar thermal at $210.7 and $311.8. The onshore wind figure looks interesting until one reads that it is based on a 34 percent capacity figure. German experience suggests that we will do well to achieve 20 percent, 25 percent at most. The $97 can therefore be increased to at least $132.

Add to that the cost of back-up. It is idle to suggest that solar plant, which generates for perhaps 10 hours a day, and wind-turbines, which often do not operate at all, do not need back-up. Reliable data are hard to come by, but the UK Royal Academy of Engineering, in a 2004 report, added 50 percent to its estimate of onshore wind costs to account for back-up.

Now add in the fact that the expected lifespan of wind turbines is 20 to 25 years compared with 50 to 60 years for nuclear plant and you begin to see why the nuclear lobby maintains that despite the high initial cost, overall lifetime nuclear generation costs are several times lower even than onshore wind and less again than solar.

A generalisation is that most disinterested reports show that coal and gas-fired plant (without CO2 penalties) and nuclear are cost-comparable, wind is significantly more expensive and solar more again.

We clearly have to get the economics right, but there is more to the nuclear question than that. …