There would be tangible benefits for South Africa and its aspiration to create a manufacturing industry around nuclear should Eskom make a firm commitment this year to the building of a new nuclear reactor, Areva plant business development manager Dr Yves Guenon asserted on Thursday.
The French nuclear vendor has, together with Toshiba’s Westinghouse of the US, submitted a bid to build Eskom’s so-called ‘Nuclear 1’ power plant, which could be a new generation pressurised water reactor (PWR) with a capacity of between 3 200 MW and 3 500 MW.
Addressing delegates at the Energy in Southern Africa conference in Johannesburg on Thursday, Guenon said that, regardless of which company was selected, a quick decision would position South Africa as one of the first countries in nuclear-equipment queue, which would increase the prospects of attracting related investments that could stimulate the development of a local nuclear industry.
“If you wait, you will be in the middle, when a lot of other countries will be starting nuclear before you. And if you have to select a country to build some factories, you will do it with the first one who may build nuclear plants,” he elaborated.
“Today you are in competition with countries like India. Because India is now ready to build nuclear,” he added.
Eskom demand side management GM Andrew Etzinger, who also spoke at the conference, said he could not comment on when a decision might be announced. But noted that, in terms of the Public Finance Management Act, any decision would be made through a very close alignment between Eskom and the government.
Eskom previously indicated that a decision would be made before the end of the year, on what would be the largest single investment in its history.
However, serious questions about the funding of the nuclear build were being asked, particularly given growing financial-market turmoil and the fact that Eskom would have to enter the capital markets at a time when access was limited and cost of such funding was high.
Observers have also raised concerns about the timing, given the current overheated nature of the supply sector, where prices were still high despite falling demand.
“The cost of borrowing has moved against us a lot recently. And, it all comes back to our major shareholder and extent to which government would be willing to fund nuclear,” Etzinger said.