South Africa’s National Energy Regulator (Nersa) on 26 August gave its support to a long-term government plan to build new nuclear power units. South Africa has only one nuclear plant, the Koeberg NPP, with two 970MWe pressurised water reactors supplied by Framatome that began operation in 1985. Currently coal produces more than 80% of South Africa's power. Coal-fired capacity was 37,000MWe in 2020, whereas utility-scale solar and wind stood at more than 4,000MWe.

In 2018, the government 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. The new build programme and has its beginnings in the 2019 iteration of the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), which states that a New Nuclear Build Programme (NNBP) should be pursued at a pace and scale that South Africa can afford. Energy minister Gwede Mantashe wrote to regulator Nersa in August 2020 stating the government's intention to procure 2,500MWe of new nuclear capacity to come online after 2030. Nersa has now formally given its "concurrence" for that plan. Its reasons will be published later.

Power utility Eskom, meanwhile, is currently seeking to have Thyspunt, a rocky stretch of coast near St Francis Bay in the Eastern Cape, declared a suitable location for a nuclear facility. No procurement for a new nuclear power station has begun, however. Eskom has said the Thyspunt may be banked as a "strategic reserve" for future use, News24 reported.

The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy on 29 August welcomed Nersa’s decision. In June 2020, the Department had issued a Request for Information (RFI) in a bid to test the market for the successful implementation of the Nuclear New Build Programme.

The department said in its statement that nuclear energy was "integral to South Africa's future energy mix as a country". The 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.

"The 2 500MW for Nuclear New Build Programme is further informed by South Africa's Nuclear Energy Policy of 2008 whereby principle three states that nuclear energy shall form part of South Africa's strategy to mitigate climate change," the statement said.

"The timing of the procurement is informed amongst others by the planned decommissioning of the coal power plant fleet of 24,100MWe post 2030 which would introduce instabilities to the national electricity grid." 

The department's statement concluded that the procurement of the 2,500MWe in the New Nuclear Build Programme in 2024 provides South Africa with enough time for the development and connection to the energy grid as well as ensure continued security of supply.

Meanwhile, Mantashe has recently gazetted amendments to rules allowing licence exemptions for the generation and operation of 100 MW of power. Nhlanhla Gumede, who is in charge of electricity regulation at Nersa, says Nersa will cut through red tape to make it as quick and easy as possible for private entities wanting to generate and sell their own electricity in terms of recent government reforms. "It's a commitment we've made. We understand that it is an imperative and have been working on how to do just that," he says. The reforms allow unlicensed self-generation of up to 100MWe.