Proposed new South African NPP site said to be unsafe

30 November 2016

South African power company Eskom plans to build a NPP at a site that may be at risk of surge storms and tsunamis, according to a report by Maarten de Wit, a professor at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and director of the Africa Earth Observatory Network. The report says canyons in the bedrock would need to be secured. "If you are going to build anything on that, it's pretty prone to storms, sea level rises and tsunamis," De Wit told Reuters on 25 November.

The site at Thyspunt, near Port Elizabeth in the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality, is on the Indian Ocean coast and the report also showed seismic activity along dormant fault lines near the site that could trigger submarine landslides. Any such activity "is likely to generate a large submarine slump, and a possible significant local tsunami that would affect the coastal region, including Thyspunt," the report said, warning that a plant at Thyspunt could be at risk of devastation similar that in Fukushima in Japan in 2011.

Eskom has applied to the nuclear regulator for licences to build NPPs at Thyspunt and Duynefontein in the Western Cape province. The regulator promised to undertake thorough safety assessments. "We have defined the height at which we have to build the plant to ensure that we ... avoid those tsunamis," Eskom's Chief Nuclear Officer David Nicholls told Reuters.

"That does include an allowance for global warming and average sea temperature rising," he added.

Meanwhile, Business Unity South Africa (Busa), an organisation representing business interests in South Africa, has urged Eskom not to move forward with procurement of its planned nuclear new build project while consultations on a draft energy plan are still underway, local media reported. Busa said Eskom and the government “do not seem to be aligned on the question of the nuclear element of the integrated resource plan (IRP)”. Two draft documents – an integrated energy plan (IEP) and the IRP – were published recently in the official gazette of the South African government and are now open for public comment.

According to these documents, South Africa is planning to have the first unit of its planned second NPP online by 2037. However, utility Eskom, which operates South Africa’s two existing commercial nuclear reactors at Koeberg NPP, said in a statement earlier that it will go ahead with a “request for proposal” for nuclear by the end of December 2016 as “all indications show 2026 is feasible to deliver the first unit”. Under the government’s proposal, a total of 20,385MWe of new nuclear energy capacity is expected to be added to the national grid by 2050. The government had previously said it wanted to generate 9,600MWe from up to eight reactors that should begin operating from 2023 and be completed by 2029, with price estimates of $37-100bn. According to the IEP, nuclear “needs to play a more significant role” in baseload generation, depending on the cost of nuclear reactors and their financing.

The Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa (NIASA) said it is "alarmed" by delays to the nuclear new-build programme under the updated IRP and IEP issued by the Department of Energy on 21 November. NIASA said it will utilise the upcoming public comment period to "fully represent" the views of the country's nuclear energy industry.



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