South African regulator launches consultation on new nuclear

26 November 2020

South Africa’s National Energy Regulator (Nersa) on 23 November issued a call for public comment on the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy's draft plan to construct 2500MWe of new nuclear power by 2030 and beyond.

Nersa published a 21-page consultation paper on which the public can comment until 5 February. It will then hold public hearings through online platforms.

“The capacity is to provide clean baseload capacity in response to the approximately 24,100MWe of coal capacity being decommissioned as well as to maintain supply/demand balance and improve energy security,” Nersa said. Several of state power utility Eskom’s coal power stations, totalling 5732MWe are set to be decommissioned by 2023. This will increase to 11,017MWe by 2030. Further decommisioning of coal power stations after 2030 "supports the need for additional capacity from cleaner energy technologies, including nuclear.”

Nersa added that load shedding had not only resulted in a loss of security of electricity supply, but it also costs sectors of the economy billions of rands leading to job losses. Recurring power outages caused by breakdowns at Eskom’s coal-fired power stations are one of the main obstacles to growth “The procurement of 2500MW from nuclear power will increase the nuclear contribution to the country energy mix from 2.4% to 5.6%,” it said. The average annual electricity demand is expected to grow by 1.8% in 2030 and 1.4% in 2050.

Nersa’s paper states that the department of mineral resources and energy (DMRE) will be responsible for procuring the new nuclear build. It outlines that the role of DMRE will be to “conduct the procurement programmes, including preparing any request for information (RFI), request for proposal (RFP), and/or related and associated documentation, negotiating the power purchase agreements, facilitating the conclusion of any other project agreements, and facilitating the satisfaction of any conditions precedent to financial close, which are within its control”.

Nersa said it “has not yet formulated any opinions on the issues that are raised in this consultation paper, but is raising them so that stakeholders can give their opinions and input on these issues in order to assist Nersa to make a well-considered decision”.

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

The IRP2019, which sets out the generation technologies to be procured between 2020 and 2030, includes no specific allocation for new nuclear, but does include an allocation for the life extension of the Koeberg nuclear power plant.

Mantashe has also indicated on several occasions that government is most interested in small modular reactors (SMRs), which he believes could be built by the private sector. In October, the US International Development Finance Corporation   signed a Letter of Intent to help SMR developer NuScale develop 2500MWe of nuclear energy in South Africa. This followed the USA's of its legacy prohibition on funding nuclear energy projects overseas.

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