Mantashe is chatty and friendly and is, after all, used to trading barbs with the press. I guess his views more or less represent the center of the left statist ideology of the ANC. He is also a party patriot and is not inclined to publicly oppose the radical economic transformation faction, although I suspect he is not a member himself.
Anyway, Business Maverick contributor Ed Stoddard asked him a question about nuclear power and got a surprising answer. Mantashe was enthusiastic, indicating that the government still intends to continue the process of nuclear construction. Just to be clear, we’re talking about a building program that will likely cost somewhere in the region of R1 trillion.
Now let’s move briefly to the other side of the world. Germany recently closed three of its six nuclear power plants and is on track to close the other three next year. This decision was of course taken before the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, which risks disrupting Germany’s energy supply.
In this context, it seems fair to ask whether Germany should delay the closure and reopen the mothballed factories. According to reports, German MP Marc Bernhard, who represents the right-wing Alternative for Germany, pointed out that the three existing plants and the reopening of the other three could offset around 30% of the gas Germany buys from Russia. .
The Financial Times took a closer look and found there were multiple issues.
Any decision to extend plant life would require a new risk assessment. There are no fresh uranium fuel rods that would allow them to continue operating beyond the end of the year, and the production of new fuel assemblies would take 12 to 15 months. And guess who is the second largest supplier of uranium to EU nuclear power plants? Russia.
Moreover, the last three nuclear power plants had a safety inspection in 2009, so a new one would have to be carried out, which could trigger demands for “massive investments” in safety technologies.
But the three existing nuclear power plants only produce 4.3 GW of electricity. Germany has a bunch of individual wind farms on the drawing board that have a capacity of over 4.3 GW. In short, the economics of electricity production has changed, reducing the attractiveness of nuclear power and increasing the attractiveness of wind and solar power, even if we are totally free from the ecological question.
Now back to the original question. Why is the ANC so desperate to build a nuclear power station? I think the continued desire to have a nuclear plant is actually quite simple.
First, the ANC likes big acquisitions from foreign governments because it can demand rent from the investor, some of which invariably ends up in party coffers.
Of course, the party’s huge faction of tender builders are also pushing for these kinds of mega-build projects. It is so important to me that Transnet and Eskom have asked to be released from certain aspects of the Public Finance Management Act.
Second, the party is under all sorts of pressures due to the shedding. The government must be seen as “doing something”, and the convenient answer is “nuclear”. Everyone knows it will take years to actually do it, so it’s like kicking to touch it.
And there’s a third reason: for much of the current ANC leadership, which is starting to get a bit bored, nuclear power was the solution at the time. There is a sort of quasi-scientific Soviet-era triumphalism about nuclear power.
Yet, as the German example shows, the economics of nuclear energy have evolved. And it is depressing that so few people in government have the financial means to understand this. DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly newspaper Daily Maverick 168 which is available for R25 from Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. To find your nearest retailer, please click on here.