South Africa reconsiders nuclear newbuild

12 May 2020

KoebergSouth Africa intends to start developing a plan for a new 2500MWe nuclear power plant, Minerals Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe told parliament.

Officials had indicated in 2019 that the government was considering adding more nuclear capacity in the long term, after abandoning in 2018 an ambitious nuclear expansion project supported by former president Jacob Zuma.

Analysts had expressed concern about Zuma’s project for a fleet of nuclear plants totalling 9600MWe arguing that it would put additional strain on public finances at a time of credit rating downgrades. Power company Eskom currently operates one nuclear plant at Koeberg, with two pressurised reactor units which began operation in 1984 and 1985 and has a total capacity of around 1900MWe.

The 100-page 2019 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) included nine interventions to respond to energy needs in the next decade. These included: preparations for a nuclear build programme to the extent of 2500 MWe "at a pace and scale that the country can afford, because it is a no-regret option in the long term"; a 20-year life extension for the Koeberg nuclear power plant to 2044; and restructuring of Eskom.  

“The development of the roadmap for the 2500MW Nuclear New Build Programme will be commencing soon,” the energy ministry said in a presentation to a parliamentary committee on its plans for 2020-25.

South Africa hopes to complete the procurement of the new nuclear plant by 2024 but no date for start of construction has been proposed.

Answering questions, Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe said the government would “test the market” to hear what potential investors and consortia had to say about building a new nuclear facility.

Options being considered include giving a "right to develop a modular nuclear station on a build, operate and transfer basis," which means there may be no immediate call for state funding” he said.

“We are going to explore all options, when there is appetite for nuclear in the market we will go ahead with it,” Mantashe added.

Industry reaction

The Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa (Niasa) welcomed Mantashe’s statement.

“Niasa is particularly happy to see the commitment to the Nuclear New Build (NNB) programme…The commitment by government suggests that it is willing to entertain innovative funding models.”

It also noted that the life extension of the Koeberg Nuclear Power Plant beyond 2024 is another "exciting opportunity" for the industry. It will also lay the foundation for skills development, ensuring readiness for the NNB programme,” it added.

Niasa also referred to government’s plan to replace the South Africa’s SAFARI-1 research reactor, which is mainly used to produce medical radioisotopes, with a new multi-purpose reactor. Such a step would allow the country to increase its production of medical radioisotopes and strengthen its position in world markets. At one time South Africa had been the world’s second largest exporter of medical radioisotopes, and Niasa said that it should seek to regain this position.

The plan was also welcomed by the Southern African Radiation Protection Association (SARPA), which was established in September 1997.

Implementation of this plan will ensure the security of energy supply, which South Africa desperately needs, SARPA said on 11 May.

Photo: South Africa's existing Koeberg nuclear power plant

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