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Power Struggle – Understanding SA’s nuclear and renewable energy options

To encourage a broad understanding of comparisons between nuclear and renewable energy generation options, it is important to review the basics.

The key difference between nuclear power and renewable energy options is that nuclear uses highly concentrated energy, the release of which must be extremely carefully managed. Renewable energy, on the other hand, is dispersed and requires infrastructure to collect. This has led to a widespread perception that renewable energy is insufficient to support industrialised society, regardless of the actual extent of the resource potential, which far exceeds what humans could use. A study of the availability of solar and wind resources in South Africa by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) shows how the country could supply double its current electricity use from wind and solar power.

A difference that receives a lot of attention is that renewable resources are variable, with availability at any particular time depending on the weather, while a nuclear power plant is ‘inflexible’, being designed to run continuously.

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