Govt. moots nuclear power as darkness looms
As Government grapples with the realities of a blackout come 2016, it keeps weighing its options, with nuclear power it had previously discarded, now back on the table, The Villager has established.
Having previously toyed with the idea, Government shelved it due to international condemnation by environmental lobbyists, especially following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011.
Today, although Namibian imports more than 60% of its power requirements, it is faced with a deficit crisis of more than 100MW in two years’ time. This, as supply agreements with Zimbabwe’s ZESA is set to expire in October 2014 and is unlikely to be renewed since that country also battles to meet its local demand.
National power supplier, NamPower’s supplementary agreement with South Africa’s Eskom expires in April 2015. Its Mozambique’s Aggreko agreement expires in August next year while its Eskom’s off peak supply deal expires in April 2016.
Minister of Mines and Energy, Isak Katali, has confirmed Government is indeed weighing its options to find solutions for the projected power shortages, although negotiations have not yet commenced, particularly where nuclear power is concerned.
“If we wanted to power Namibia with uranium, the first step would be to establish a guiding policy on nuclear energy, which Government has been working on since 2007,” he says.
The main challenge in setting up nuclear reactors would be on how to deal with the excess power generated, Katali says. And until such challenges are dealt with, Government will forge ahead with its current implementation of its ambitious Kudu Gas plant. The plant is expected to generate more than 800MW, sufficient for domestic use, plus an excess.
Namibia has already secured a deal to sell surplus power to South Africa and Zambia, which would have been generated from the Kudu plant. However, it might face difficulty in finding takers for the excess power generated by a nuclear plant.
“Just because we have uranium as a national resource does not mean we must set up nuclear reactors. The kind of power a nuclear reactor would produce in minimum is more than what the Kudu plant will give us. So where will we take the leftovers of the surplus?”
Nonetheless, Katali says powering Namibia with nuclear remains within the equation.
On his recent official visit to China, Prime Minister Dr Hage Geingob toured one of that country’s nuclear powered plants.
But asked about the possibility of bilateral deals by both countries on nuclear power, NamPower remains tight-lipped, referring The Villager to the Ministry of Mines and Energy.
“It’s a policy issue and they (the ministry) are the ones with the policy and would therefore be in a better position to comment on the issue,” NamPower has said.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Economics, Natural Resources and Public Administration last week called for the urgent implementation of short-term solutions to avert a national power crisis.
The committee said domestic solar photovoltaic installations should be made available at all electricity distribution and supply entities in the country. This, after a recently-proposed stop-gap measure.
During the recently held Renewable Energy (RE) Conference, delegates established renewable energy, an energy efficient policy and energy laws need to be drafted and promulgated as a matter of urgency.
Windhoek mayor, Agnes Kafula also said then due to the fact that urbanisation growth outstrips electricity supply, new innovations are direly required.
Nuclear Fuel Cycle Policy
Although the uranium mining industry has always been regulated by the Minerals (Prospecting and Mining) Act 33 of 1992, a Nuclear Fuel Cycle policy is currently being developed.
In 2007, Government decided to pursue a nuclear power programme, providing the need for a policy directive concerning the nuclear energy, even though Namibia’s participation in the nuclear fuel cycle is limited to uranium production.
It has also generally accepted exploring the rest of the nuclear fuel cycle maybe of significant benefit to its needs.
While the country considers to actively engage in the activities of the nuclear fuel cycle for socio-economic development, however, it remains mindful of the harmful effects associated with it, Katali asserts.
These effects may relate to public health, environment protection and safety of nuclear facilities. Therefore, the robust regulatory framework is necessary to provide the assurance that these activities are pursued in a controlled environment.
If pursued, Namibia’s nuclear power could create an energy security, nuclear technology and skills competency, industrial development, increased revenue generation through value addition and job-creation for the country at large.
To develop the relevant policy, Government has since consulted and engaged industry players, the international community, bilateral partners and other local stakeholders to ensure their diverse views are taken into consideration. This has been to articulate Government’s intent for development of the nuclear fuel cycle industry.
In the end, this framework (the policy) will serve as Government’s guide in effectively facilitating development, regulation, monitoring and management of the industry.
Government supports the development of a locally sustainable uranium mining sector, which would in fact be in line with international best practices. This is especially because it is a signatory to the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the instruments, which enforce the provisions of the Treaty, such as the Safeguards Agreement and the Additional Protocol to the Safeguards Agreement.
The demand for uranium is bound to increase as the world transforms into a nuclear power consumer, due to the decreasing stockpiles of current secondary resources.
The radioactive nature of uranium ores requires special attention throughout the lifecycle of uranium production, particularly in terms of minimising the radiological risks and impacts on those who are occupationally exposed, the public and even the environment.
But to get there, Namibia would have to formulate a framework for the safety and secure management of radioactive wasted and spent fuel, hence the policy. Such a framework would include the measures of regulating the management of waste at all licensed facilities. It would further strive to set up a national waste management facility for the long-term storage of nuclear waste.
NamPower’s other stop-gap measures
The ambitious Kudu Power Plant is pitted to generate 800MW, to supply Namibia’s 500MW requirements.
Namibia is also in agreements with South Africa’s Eskom and Zambian CEC Liquid Telecom for them to acquire Kudu’s surplus.
As such, Eskom will attain 100MW while CEC receives 300MW.
Ruacana Hydro Power Station, which is currently undergoing installation of turbine runners worth N$45m, will provide Namibia with 347MW.
Therefore, Namibia will only start importing 30MW from Zimbabwe’s Hwange Power Station and 90MW from Mozambique’s Aggreko Power Station as from 2016.
NamPower proposes an Arandis Power Station, powered by solar and heavy fuel oil. The power station is expected to generate 60MW, although this would have to be done by a private independent power producer (IPP). This project could only be possible with a merger with Anixas in Walvisbay, which runs on heavy fuel oil load and produces 22MW, plus a solar power project also in Arandis, which generates 30MW.
The 20 000 solar water heater campaign aimed at exchanging 20 000 electric water heaters (EWHs) with solar water heaters (SWHs) over the next five years, will contribute to the reduction of a national peak demand of 10MW.
The Zizabona project, for which NamPower is a partner, will enable direct transmission interconnection between the power networks in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia. This is meant to help decongest Sadc’s only existing central transmission corridor; from Zambia through Zimbabwe and Botswana into South Africa. - email@example.com
Nuclear energy has an advantage compared to coal, oil and gas-fired plants.
Uranium, however, has to be processed, enriched and fabricated into fuel elements, and about half of the cost is due to enrichment and fabrication.
The assessment of the economics of nuclear power allowances must also be made for the management of radioactive-used fuel and the ultimate disposal of the used fuel or the wastes separated from it.
Even with these included, the total fuel costs of a nuclear power plant are typically about a third of those for a coal-fired plant and between a quarter and a fifth of those for a gas combined-cycle plant.
The US Nuclear Energy Institute suggests that for a coal-fired plant, 78% of the cost is the fuel, for a gas-fired plant the figure is 89% while for nuclear, the uranium is about 14%, or double that to include all front-end costs.
Namibia is one of the world’s top five producers of uranium and thus holds five percent of the world’s known reserves. The uranium deposits are mainly located in the Erongo region, although potential discovery of more deposits elsewhere in the country remains.
As it stands, uranium production is expected to increase in countries such as Kazakhstan, Australia, Canada, Niger, Russia and Namibia.