South African utility Eskom aims to publish the request for proposals (RFP) for new nuclear power reactors by mid-2017, with evaluation of proposals by the end of the year, according the Eskom Chief Nuclear Officer, David Nicholls. Eskom will then negotiate with the vendors, one at a time, to choose a preferred vendor, and move into discussions about localisation, he said in an interview published on the Eskom website last week. Site work could conceivably begin in 2018, or “if we are lucky”, maybe even in 2017 for early, off-site work such as roads, he added.

In December 2016, Eskom issued an initial request for information (RFI) for new reactors. The 38 companies that responded included “major nuclear vendors” from China (SNPTC), France (EDF), Russia (Rusatom Overseas) and South Korea (Kepco). The government has said it wants 9600MWe of capacity from up to eight reactors that should begin operating from 2023 and be completed by 2029, with total price estimates ranging from $37bn to $100bn.

Eskom has given itself the internal target that for new nuclear to make sense, the levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) from the project must $60-80 per MWh for the first two reactor units, Nicholls said. In a recent report, the International Atomic Energy Agency put the LCOE for the construction of new nuclear power plants in a range from $40 to $100 per MWh. LCOE is the long-term price at which the electricity produced by a power plant will have to be sold for the investor to cover all their costs.   Nicholls said reactor construction time will be six years and plant economic life 60 years.

South Africa’s Koeberg nuclear plant near Cape Town, operated by Eskom, has two reactors that generate almost 5% of total electricity.