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SA’s nuclear power build
programme – will it happen?
The South African government, at a nuclear conference held in Midrand in
March 2013, strongly affirmed its support of the country’s planned nuclear
programme for a fleet of power stations to provide 9.6 GW as per the national
integrated resource plan (IRP).
Y et, in spite of the South African government’s continued
support for the nuclear power programme, there hovers
a cloud of uncertainty.
South Africa made the decision to implement a nuclear
power programme on 16 March 2011 whereby 9.6 GW of
nuclear power is to be added to the national grid by 2030.
This decision was taken five days after the Fukushima nuclear
reactor incident in Japan and South Africa’s minister of energy
Dipuo Peters hopes this emphasises that the political will is
there to take forward South Africa’s planned nuclear energy
programme. Eskom is to be the owner and operator of these
Peters sensibly states that any long term energy mix
requires the country to use all its resources including nuclear
energy. “The earthquake tsunami that struck Japan almost put
a damper on the nuclear plan, but cabinet said the country has
legislation in the sector and can deal with any challenges. A
proviso was that the department of energy should ensure there
is a nuclear power implementation plan that will speak to all
of the 19 milestones listed by the International Atomic Energy
In early February 2013, South Africa undertook an
Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review (INIR), a peer review
of its nuclear power capability, as per the guidelines of the IAEA.
This review covers a range of issues ranging from political will
to infrastructure. Peters says the agency has never before
undertaken an INIR for a country with an existing nuclear
programme as this was designed for newcomers to the sector.
She says the fact that South Africa undertook the process
should also be seen as a strong indicator of the political will to
ensure its planned nuclear programme takes place.
After the Fukushima nuclear installation incident due
to the worst tsunami on record, the result of the nuclear
reactor failure being no deaths and no one affected by
radiation, the South African government nonetheless opted
for caution. Eskom and the South African Nuclear Energy
Corporation (Necsa) were asked respectively to undertake a
safety assessment of Koeberg nuclear power station and the
test reactor at Pelindaba, and these came out positively. In
addition a body called the National Nuclear Energy Executive
Coordination Committee was formed.
Peters points out that nuclear energy produces base load
power with a controllable and predictable output. Because
South Africa is trying to reduce its dependence on coal fired
power, nuclear is currently the only established base load
option the country has. Gas may have potential for the future,
but at the moment the choice comes down to nuclear energy or
ESI AFRICA ISSUE 1 2013
coal fired energy. Peters correctly notes that the country cannot
depend only on wind and solar. “Our vision is to migrate to a
low carbon economy by 2030 and therefore we have no choice
but to include nuclear energy into the mix and we must explore
the necessary models to achieve this.”
The country’s deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe says,
“South Africa has had coal at the core of a mining driven
economy, and coal generates over 90% of the country’s
electricity. Coal is not a long term solution. Most of the coal
used is clustered in the north-east part of South Africa, which
requires long high voltage lines to transmit electricity across
vast distances. This is strategically unwise over the long term.”
Motlanthe says, “We need to produce electricity in other
parts of South Africa. This is a strategically sensible approach
which requires the use of other energy sources in addition to
coal. Nuclear power is ideal, since we can build large plants
on the southern coastline and other points in the future.
Nuclear power plant building is a major undertaking and South
African industry can play a major role in the construction and
fabrication of these.”
So, with such a clear cut policy statement, why does the
uncertainty about South Africa’s nuclear programme linger?
One reason is obviously the emotive and irrational
opposition that exists globally towards nuclear power. Peters
hints at the political challenge that presents and suggests, “Let
South Africa have open engagement about nuclear power.
Let the people of South Africa be informed and let them weigh
Danny Quan, head of nuclear construction at Aveng Nuclear.