The South African government has signalled intent to pursue construction of a new nuclear power plants (NPPs) and increase the amount of nuclear-generated electricity in the country to 9.6 GW by 2030, a cabinet Minister said on Wednesday.
Public Enterprise Minister, Malusi Gigaba said the South Africa government has to make a decision this year.
The Minister said the nuclear propramme – Eskom would be the government’s operator- would drive up the industrialization in South Africa, Africa’s largest economy, if foreign investors chipped in. Gigaba also highlighted that the country cannot achieve its social and economic development objectives without energy.
He said he hoped the National Nuclear Energy Executive Co-ordinating Commission would present its view on the options for nuclear energy to the Cabinet in the near future. Eskom would be the operator of the government’s nuclear programme.
It might be necessary to bring the construction of a third new coal-fired power station forward because it would take time to raise funds and build the nuclear power stations, a process that would be staggered into three phases of 3,200MW each. This was under discussion with the Department of Energy.
The minister furthered stating that the construction of new NPPs will benefit South African industry. Local companies have displayed their competence with the construction of new coal power stations, he cited. “It is essential that South African industry position itself to export nuclear power plant components,” which will require local companies to form international strategic partnerships. Construction of such components demands very high standards, which is a “challenge that must be overcome”.
Those opposed to the new nuclear project cite the huge amount of money involved in the construction of the plants, but Gigaba dismissed the notion explaining that the cost of the construct had to be weighed against the gains made in reducing carbon emissions and the long-term stability of electricity supply.
The opponents of the nuclear energy also cited the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan two year ago. However, the South Africa government has proceeded carefully. It had the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) investigate the safety of national electricity utility Eskom’s Koeberg NPP and Necsa’s Safari-1 research reactor. (Koeberg is near Cape Town and Safari-1 is at Pelindaba, west of Pretoria.) The outcome of both safety reviews was positive, with only minor changes required.
He asked: “Which costs are we willing to bear? That is the decision we have to take.”
He also believes that the Democratic Republic of Congo, Inga hydroelectric project would determine the future of the nuclear energy.
Last month, South Africa Deputy President, Kgalema Motlanthe said: “It has become crystal-clear that coal is not a long-term solution of our needs.
“Because of coal, our country is listed among the world’s largest emitters of carbon dioxide.”
Moreover, the country’s coal power stations were concentrated in the north-east region and required long transmission lines to reach most of the rest of the country. This was not wise.
“It is clear that in the medium term coal will have a role to play in mitigating our energy challenges,” he admitted.