There is an article over in engineering news online about new russian technology which could help South Africa meet its medium-term energy needs.
You may or may not be aware that Eskom, South Africa’s state owned power utility is operating near i’ts maximum. The utility’s reserve generating margins are pretty much at zero and this is unlikely to change in the next five years until new base load power stations start coming online from about 2013 and onwards. South Africa is already feeling the effects of the lack of capacity and is afflicted by rolling black-outs. The official term for them is “load-shedding,” anyone who has lived in an area beset by rolling black outs is aware of what a disruption they can be both to life and too the local economy.
The country is in a bind in that there is no way for it to see any additional capacity to the system before 2012. That date isn’t even the new baseline plants but the potential start up date for a number of short term co-generation projects, these plants are joint ventures between Eskom and the private sector to build small gas-fuelled power stations to help cover peak periods.
However Russia is currently building the worlds first FNPP or Floating Nuclear Power Plant. The main devision of Russia’s State Nuclear Shipbuilding Centre, Sevmash began construction in 2006 and will see the first boat completed in 2010. It is possible that South Africa might be able to convince Sevmash to lease them an FNPP. Though currently the first is earmarked to stay at Sevmash and power the companies facilities, along with ‘the local social infrastructure,’ oh and it also will generate heat to be used in the community and desalinate water. The company has a second boat in the works but it is also earmarked for use in the East Siberian Sea. However the Russia government has made suggestions that it would be willing to lease one of them to South Africa for a couple of years.
The idea of a number of these floating nuke stations being used to provide power in areas that need it is an intriguing one. The possibilities for their use in area’s that have maxed out their capacity or after a natural disaster gives flexibility to the worlds power grid that has until this point never existed.
Of course the idea of a floating nuke station is likely an environmentalists nightmare, not to mention the potential security concerns that come with having a nuclear plant that isn’t sitting on solid ground and therefore could be approached from underneath. The KLT-40S is however reported to be a well-proven design and is already employed in a number of nuclear icebreakers. The gross power production of a KLT-40S is 35 MWe. To give you a comparison the Western GeoPower Unit at The Geysers Geothermal Field in California will be 35 MWe. Each FNPP with be comprised of two KLT-40S nuclear reactors built on top of a 20,000 ton non-self propelled barge with a length of 140m and a beam of 30m. It should be noted that when the FNPPs are towed the reactors will be off line and emptied of nuclear fuel. I mean you would have to be a true idiot to risk getting a working nuclear power plant caught in a storm at sea.
Whether or not you agree with it the FNPP is coming. The Russian News and Information Agency, Novositi, reports that Russia considers the FNPP to be a ‘Vital element’ in the national energy programme.