South Africa to launch procurement process for new nuclear

14 December 2023

South Africa intends to launch a bidding process for an extra 2,500 MWe of nuclear power by March after getting approval from the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa). South Africa's Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) plans to issue requests for proposals by March 2024. DMRE can proceed with the procurement process after it satisfied a set of "suspensive conditions" imposed by Nersa, the Minister in the Presidency responsible for Electricity, Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, told a livestreamed media briefing.

The three “suspensive conditions” that needed to be met included the need to “establish rationality” for the 2,500 MWe by preparing a demand analysis to determine a load profile and for the nuclear technology to be “procured through an engineering procurement & construction contract”.

DMRE submitted a report to Nersa in July addressing these conditions and the regulator has now concluded that those conditions had been satisfactorily addressed, Ramokgopa said. Nersa issued a formal concurrence on 2 September, which means a ministerial determination of 2020 to begin the procurement process will now be gazetted. "We are triggering now... essentially a procurement process. We are going out to ensure that we are able to get that additional 2500MW of nuclear capacity to ensure that we are able to meet issues of national security and energy sovereignty," Ramokgopa said.

Nuclear power was a key part of South Africa's 2019 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), which called for the country to make preparations for new nuclear capacity, alongside the continued operation of the existing two-unit 1860 MWe Koeberg NPP. The plant that began operation in 1985 is currently licensed to operate until 2024 and 2025 and power utility Eskom has applied to Nersa to extend the operating life an additional 20 years beyond its initial 40-year operating life.

South Africa continues to face electricity constraints and loadshedding, and nuclear is a reliable source of energy to ensure future energy security Ramokgopa said. He added that the case for more nuclear power was compelling noting that the Eskom fleet was ageing. Nuclear energy was the "cheapest and cleanest" energy and would provide the baseload power that renewable energy needs for stability.

“This is a significant milestone. It cements our unassailable position ... as a leader on the continent in relation to nuclear generation capacity,” he said. The IRP 2023 is due to be published very soon. However, Ramokgopa said that the 2 500 MWe of nuclear energy had already been decided on IRP 2019 and was also included in IRP 2023.

Ramokgopa said that while the previous attempt to procure nuclear energy under President Jacob Zuma's administration had been "mired in controversy" the government had now clarified the procurement process for this project with Nersa.

DMRE Deputy director-general for nuclear Zizamele Mbambo said the department was not in a position to detail the “shape, form and format” of the request for proposals (RFP) at this stage but he could provide details on timing. “Based on our assessment as a team, having done the request for information [in 2020] … we found that the ideal time by which to start commissioning the first unit ... is around 2032 to 2033.

He added: “Remember that we are dealing here, as the minister has indicated, with a long-term project which requires that you start early so that you are optimising on time. The nuclear project ... in the minimum, it takes about 10-12 years to be able to commission the power plant into the grid.” He said the procurement would be in line with the Constitution and would be "open, transparent, and cost-effective”.

In 2018, the government had abandoned an ambitious 9,600MWe nuclear expansion project championed by former president Jacob Zuma after it became embroiled in corruption allegations, but a year later it resuscitated the project on a smaller scale. IRP 2019 stated that a New Nuclear Build Programme (NNBP) should be pursued at a pace and scale that South Africa can afford. In June 2020, DMRE issued a Request for Information (RFI) in a bid to test the market for the successful implementation of the Nuclear New Build Programme. Then Energy minister Gwede Mantashe wrote to Nersa in August 2020 stating the government's intention to procure 2,500 MWe of new nuclear capacity to come online after 2030. In 2021 a DMRE statement said a "thorough assessment" of the RFI responses indicated that the market had a strong appetite and saw feasibility for the implementation of the New Nuclear Build Programme in South Africa.

Image: Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, South Africa's Minister in the Presidency responsible for Electricity

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