SA signs nuclear deal with Russia

And it’s a biggie. Fifty billion of your American Dollars. Instantly, there were two camps mobilised on social media; Firstly, there were those that were opposed to the it because of the sudden and apparently clandestine nature of the agreement, and the inevitable palm-greasing opportunities it provides for the 72nd and 127th ranked nations on the Corruption Perceptions Index 2013.
And then secondly, there were those who were opposed to it because of Chernobyl. Ugh.

I can’t do much about the first problem. As South Africans, we’re (sadly) naturally conditioned to assume that any governmental activity is, in some way, ethically flawed in a financial sense. Of course, the truth is that quite a lot of governmental activity is corrupt. You’d probably have to ask someone with more time and more love for statistics than me to find out “exactly” how much. (Try AfricaCheck or Ivo Vegter.)

However, that doesn’t mean that all governmental activity works that way. But, the assumption is to assume corruption first, and then continue to assume corruption even when there’s no proof. That’s a rod that the ANC has made for its own back and it’s going to be a difficult rod to remove.

The second issue irritates me. While Chernobyl (which actually in is Ukraine, of course, not Russia) was obviously a catastrophic incident, it’s been 10,378 days since that fateful day and I think I’m pretty much safe in saying no further Russian Soviet nuclear power plants have blown up in the intervening period. It’s also a bit foolish to assume that Soviet Russian technology hasn’t moved on during those 28½ years.
Likewise, Harland and Wolff is still a going concern, despite having built the Titanic (#NeverForget).

Things change.

What I don’t think people have considered is the alternatives to Russian nuclear power. We could do solar, but I’ve been doing some rudimentary calculations and I reckon that to achieve the 9.6GW capacity planned for this nuclear thing, we’d need something about 33 times the size of the current largest solar park in the world. That would cover 32,043 hectares and would cost about $33 billion. Oh, and since solar only operates at about 25% (Agua Caliente’s nameplate capacity is 290MW, but its average production is just 71MW, because “cloud” and “dark”) we’d never actually get near the 9.6GW anyway.

Wind, then? At 3MW per massive 145 metre (90m hub + 55m blade) turbine, you’d need 3,200 turbines! And that’s assuming 100% efficiency. Wind farms don’t do 100% efficiency. Wind farms only do about 30% efficiency (and I’m being nice here). So basically 10,000 turbines to guarantee that 9.6GW figure. If you’ve seen the blot on the landscape that is the Dassiesklip Wind Farm near Caledon, you’ll see how much of an eyesore just 9 (nine) turbines can be. And how much space they take up.
Dream on.

Tidal, wave? Laughable.
Coal? No-one like coal.
Beaglegas? Far too dangerous. Makes Chernobyl look like an ideal day out for the local primary school.
Natural gas from fracking? Makes perfect sense, but the bunnyhuggers don’t like it.

Of course, the bunnyhuggers don’t like nuclear either, but they don’t seem to be able to come up with any viable alternatives. Alternatives, yes, but not viable ones. They might as well suggest a big team of hamsters on bikes.

But the nuclear deal seems to be all signed and sealed, so I suppose that my pontificating or that of anyone else is of little consequence. I think nuclear is a good way to go. I just hope it’s done right, without backhanders and naughtiness.

Koeberg siren is just a test: Eskom

Much panic in Cape Town about the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station emergency sirens sounding, but don’t worry – it’s just a test:

Koeberg Emergency Plan Siren Test
29 February 2012
A full volume siren test of the Koeberg Public Warning System will be conducted in your area on the morning of 29 February 2012 between 10:00 and 12:00.

Only a test
The siren/public address systems installed in Atlantis, Duynefontein, Melkbosstrand, Van Riebeeckstrand, Philadelphia, Bloubergstrand, Bloubergrandt, West Beach, Sunningdale, Parklands, Robben Island and the farms surrounding Koeberg Power Station will be tested during this exercise.
Public Address announcements informing you of the test will be made before and after the sirens are sounded. No action needs to be taken by the public.
Remember: this is only a test.

Apologies if this ruins your plans for the rest of the week off with radiation sickness and a slow, agonising death.

The carbon cost of Germany’s nuclear ‘Nein danke!’

We’ve mentioned Andrea Merkel’s idiotic decision to abandon nuclear power a couple of times on this blog recently (namely here and here). At the time, I said it was a kneejerk reaction – one that hadn’t been properly through (save for trying to keep the green lobby happy). Well, things seem to be going from bad to worse, as David Strahan states in the New Scientist.

Last year the government, headed by Angela Merkel, made the sensible but unpopular decision to extend the life of Germany’s nuclear plants to 2036 as a “bridge technology” towards “the age of renewable energy”. But after the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, public hostility intensified and Merkel retreated. The U-turn may help her in the 2013 federal elections but it is a major reversal for the climate.

Germany, (a country which, lest we forget, is a world leader in solar and wind power) now needs to get its energy from somewhere and even with its ambitious plans to produce 35% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, that simply isn’t enough – even for this world leader.
So, what do they do?

How will Germany fill that hole? With coal and other fossil fuels. It has plans to build 20 gigawatts of fossil-fuel power stations by 2020, including 9 gigawatts of coal by 2013. The government now describes fossil-fuel power stations – apparently without irony – as “the new bridging technology”. Some of this may never be fitted with carbon capture and storage because German environmental campaigners don’t like this technology either.


Trevor Sikorski, head of environmental market research at London investment bank Barclays Capital, calculates that Germany will emit an extra 300 million tonnes of carbon dioxide between now and 2020. That is more than the annual emissions of Italy and Spain combined under the EU’s emissions trading scheme (ETS).

So much for the EU’s plan to reduce carbon emissions by 335 million tonnes by 2020. That’s now been almost completely negated by Germany turning its back on nuclear energy. And with the fossil fuelled power comes other air pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, volatile organic compounds and heavy metals.

South African anti-nuclear campaigners (with their dramatic websites) would do well to take note. Their demands for using “renewable” sources to generate electricity might be well-meaning, but are hopelessly inadequate. When a first-world, developed country with a reputation for green technology and engineering can’t support itself with wind and solar and has to turn to dirty coal and oil (albeit because of a silly decision), realistically, what hope does SA have?

Germany’s electricity now comes from er… nuclear and coal


After Angela Merkel’s short-sighted and silly plan of closing down Germany’s atomic power stations in a desperate attempt to prevent any more nuclear electoral disasters, it quickly appeared that Germany would run short of electricity. No matter, said Merkel – we’ll import our power from France while we decide what to do.

That’s France, which has 58 nuclear power stations and which produces almost 80% of its electricity using nuclear power.

Well, it seems that Merkel has flip-flopped her way to another momentous decision: her Government is going to encourage the construction of new coal and gas power plants using millions of Euros from a fund for… er… promoting clean energy and combating climate change.

Remember what risk perception expert David Ropeik told us about this?

We can fear too much (vaccines), or too little (particulate pollution from coal-burning power plants), despite the available evidence, and our perceptions can create risks all by themselves. Excessive fear of vaccines is allowing diseases that had almost been eradicated to spread once more. Conversely, inadequate concern about coal-burning power stations has meant coal has been favoured over “scarier” nuclear power, risking sickness and death for thousands of people from particulate air pollution. Fukushima is now playing a powerful part in this retreat from nuclear power.

Clear evidence, if any were needed, that for Merkel it was never really not about the issue of safe or green electricity production, it was only ever about the issue of trying to be popular with the electorate.

I think she’s messed that bit up now too.