HomeAgri NewsAfricaNew partnership unveiled: Is nuclear the answer to our electricity woes?

New partnership unveiled: Is nuclear the answer to our electricity woes?

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

The Southern African Agri Initiative (Saai) and C5 Capital, an investment firm based in Washington DC specialising in advanced nuclear energy solutions, announced a groundbreaking strategic partnership. This alliance aims to spearhead the development of innovative nuclear solutions to bolster agriculture and ensure food security across South Africa and the wider African continent. This initiative not only marks a significant stride towards alternative energy solutions for regions plagued by inconsistent energy production but also sets the standard for similar projects throughout Africa.

The partnership is founded on a mutual commitment to harnessing advanced nuclear technology to revolutionise agricultural practices, conserve natural resources and fortify food security. The collaboration will explore the application of cutting-edge nuclear techniques to enhance agricultural productivity, animal health, food safety and quality, and effective land and water management, among other critical areas.

Read more about Overyssel Boerdery’s new renewable energy plan here.

A revolutionary approach

Central to this initiative is a three-pronged strategy encompassing the long-term integration of advanced nuclear energy generation within South African agriculture, the innovative application of artificial intelligence (AI) in farming practices and the ambitious venture into agriculture in space and the application of space-based data to agriculture. This multifaceted approach underscores the partners’ dedication to leveraging technology for sustainable agricultural development.

The announcement also heralds the continuation of C5 Capital’s strategic vision, building upon its existing plans to construct a small modular nuclear reactor (SMR) for energy offtake by leading data centre companies in Cape Town. This project not only underscores the technological prowess within the region but also signifies a return to and an evolution of South Africa’s once-leading role in the field of pebble bed modular reactor (PBMR) development.

Reflecting on the historical context, South Africa was at the forefront of PBMR technology, engaging in international cooperation that saw significant advancements in the early 2000s. Despite the subsequent discontinuation of South Africa’s PBMR programme, this partnership aims to reignite the nation’s legacy in nuclear innovation, leveraging proudly South African technology that has been refined and improved over the years.

According to Dr Kelvin Kemm, nuclear physicist and chairperson at Stratek Global, South Africa was the first country in the world to develop a commercial small module reactor, 30 years ago. The electricity is designed to be competitive in price to anything you can currently get in the country. A number of large companies internationally have shown interest in funding this operation. The idea is that this reactor can be placed anywhere, it works with helium gas as the coolant and does not need the ocean as the big reactors such as Koeberg do. “These reactors enable you to have your independent grid as it does not have to connect to the national electricity supply,” he says.

What does it mean for agriculture?

According to Francois Mellet, this type of technology (HTMR-100), is very safe. It is also a self-sufficient system and can shut itself down without any human intervention. This unit can supply approximately 1400 average houses of electricity during peak periods, and approximately 1600 RDP houses. With regards to pivot irrigation, it can supply around 255 pivots of electricity on an eight-hour basis.

From Saai, the sentiment is equally optimistic: “The prospect of a reliable energy supply in rural areas is a game changer, not only enhancing the competitiveness of commercial producers but also crucial for the modernisation and commercialisation of smallholder producers. This venture is a monumental step towards their emergence as profitable producers and key contributors to regional food security,” says Dr Theo de Jager, chairperson of the board at Saai.

This partnership not only reflects a significant leap towards sustainable energy and agricultural development in South Africa, but also serves as a beacon for future initiatives across Africa. The aim is to address the critical challenges of energy reliability and food security through technological innovation and collaboration. – compiled by Elmarie Helberg, Plaas Media

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