Let’s heed Jonas’s sentiment and get cracking

Let’s heed Jonas’s sentiment and get cracking


  • Release Date: March 15, 2017

In the Budget speech of Minister Pravin Gordhan, he emphasised the need for improved growth. It should be obvious that a finance minister cannot keep allocating money to improved housing, medical care, education, social grants, and more, if the country has no growth.
A few days later the Deputy Minister of Finance, Mcebisi Jonas, said growth did not result from somebody just changing financial numbers on paper, but from people actually doing things. Totally correct.
Some people seem to think growth sort of happens while you watch it from a neighbouring hill, through a pair of binoculars. No, people have to roll up their sleeves, pick up the shovel and start digging. Gordhan said the government planned to spend R947.2 billion in public sector infrastructure over the next three years.
Included in this was R35.9bn for bulk infrastructure for metropolitan municipalities and R125.3bn for water and sanitation.
A perfect project for this plan of action is the large-scale nuclear power build.
The scientific community calculate the nuclear power build as being an amount of R650bn, not the R1 trillion figure of fiction so loved by anti-nuclear activists.
A vital point, which is so often ignored, is that there is a target of 50 percent localisation in the project. Another fact that is also ignored is that the project would span a decade, which is longer than the three-year span of Gordhan’s Budget figures.
So it is not R1 trillion, one shot, once, as the anti-nuclear bandwagon love to chant. Even without a 50 percent localisation figure as a target, the localisation would happen anyway, to some natural degree. Who do you think will be driving the bulldozer, as the site access roads are made; a South African; a Russian; a Chinese; a Frenchman… who? Who will be pouring the concrete for the plant foundations? What about water supply, sewerage, electrical systems, plant lighting and so on? Let us move to the more complex; like installing the electrical generators, like the ones in our giant coal power stations. What about the heat exchangers, the giant electrical control boards, like one sees at Sasol and national Telkom control centres? Did we entirely use foreigners to do those? Infrastructure development initiatives that Gordhan has spoken about are all tied up in the nuclear build.
Just the site area alone, plus the sur- rounding areas, need improved roads, new bridges, water supply, electrical supply, housing for workers, food supply for workers, transport, and the list goes on.
This would all be a huge financial stimulus to the deprived Eastern Cape area. Of course there would then also be the natural knock-on effect as well. Clothing shops would sell more clothing, fast-food outlets would sell more food… fast. And so we go.

The local municipality within which the proposal site resides is planning to improve its water reticulation. I spoke to them about it.
But the nuclear build would mean that the nuclear project planners would go into the area and, in partnership, would ensure that a much larger, more effective water reticulation system was developed.
The nuclear planners have to account for the site construction and for the housing and services supply for a few thousand workers, who will be working in the area. Some of these workers would work on the nuclear site and some in the vicinity of the site, on work linked to the site.
The proposed “nuclear site” extends as far as 100km from the actual construction site. This means that, for example, the harbours at Port Elizabeth and at the Coega industrial development zone would have to be examined in order to plan bringing large tonnage assemblies ashore. Can they be offloaded, are the access roads navigable to a large-load truck convoy? What about bridges and the lesser roads?
This is all infrastructure development.
Later would come the construction of the large power lines, and so on.
Such construction needs skilled welders and machinists. We have such skills in the country, but nowhere near enough. The nuclear build would supply the incentive for more world-class welders to be trained.
This is a top-of-the-line skill. Such welders can find jobs in oil and gas; aerospace; the food processing industry; and many other places, later in their careers if they want to change jobs. The skills are forever. The minister put more big bucks into basic education. Becoming a master-welder is incredible basic education, for the good of the growth of the nation. The deputy minister meant: pick up your shovel; pick up your welding torch; switch on your lathe, etc.
The nuclear project does that.
Gordhan spoke about increasing the use of public-private partnership (PPPs) to deliver infrastructure projects.
Great, that is exactly what a growth economy needs. The government can’t build a nuclear power plant. Governments just don’t do things like that. The only way to do it is by massive use of private companies. They must be profit driven. They must be given the opportunity to make a good profit, and they must be severely jumped on with hob-nailed boots if they step out of line.
Nuclear-power projects are not inherently prone to cost overruns and time delays, no matter what the rock-around- the-rainforest crowd tell you. Koeberg was built on time and on budget, by mostly South African teams. If we could do that 40 years ago, why not now again, with much improved modern methods?
By the way, South Africa is a world leader in some of these methods; we aren’t crawling out of the Dark Ages in this respect. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE) they are now building a nuclear power station called Barakah. This is the same fundamental type that South Africa will build. Their primary foreign partner is South Korea, building an improved design of a US reactor design. They say they are on time and on budget, and on track to produce electricity in mid 2017.
South Africa needs really good project management on the nuclear build. We need serious collaboration, carefully structured.
A lot of work has gone into the nuclear build already, for many years in fact. There is a huge amount of planning and design going on all day, every day.
Sure things will go wrong. Like a battle-field, it is impossible to get everything to unfold exactly according to every detail of a plan. But that is what good leadership is: to think your way around a snag in the heat of battle. Internationally South Africans have a reputation for being very good at that. The “partnership” of PPP is what counts.

In the first South African expedition up Mount Everest, the small South African team were told to get out of the way of the big-time international experts.
A while later, the big-time international guys got into serious trouble and a record number of them died on the freezing summit slopes. The only people who had a radio communication system powerful enough to talk from the top to the bottom of Everest, and to teams on the nearby mountains, was the “amateur” South African team, who had to bail the big guys out.
For a good nuclear build – which is on time, on budget, that the world will applaud – we need good organisation and good communications. We have all the other bits and pieces of the “nuclear expedition” scattered around the country, one way or another. All the required framework is in the Gordhan Budget plan. The action leading to growth is embodied in the deputy finance minister’s sentiment of “pick up the shovel”.

Dr Kelvin Kemm is a nuclear physicist, and is chairman of the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa).

Note: All the big international nuclear vendors, plus stars like the director-general of the World Nuclear Association and the CEO of the World Association of Nuclear Operators, will be at the Nuclear Africa 2017 Conference near Pretoria at the end of March to engage with anyone who wants to be involved in the PPP scene. Remember, it is teamwork and collaboration which counts, on an international scale.


Kelvin Kemm
Sources: Magazine “BUSINESS REPORT” of March 15 2017, page 16

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Arnaud Lefevre

Arnaud Lefevre is the Chief Executive Officer of Dynatom International. Arnaud is in charge of the international development of the business portfolio.