Eskom is going ahead with tentative plans for new nuclear capacity amid uncertainty about whether the technology will be included in the updated Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), which government has indicated will be released for public comment soon.
Eskom acting general manager for nuclear new build Loyiso Tyabashe said on Thursday that the Eskom team would continue its preparatory work for nuclear until it was told otherwise.
“If the Integrated Resource Plan says ‘no nuclear’ until 2050, then we have no business. We have to close shop and move on. But until then, we have to keep going.”
The government has said the IRP for electricity will be presented to Cabinet for approval in mid-August.
Energy Minister Jeff Radebe did not mention nuclear energy in his Budget Vote speech in Parliament this week, or at the African Utility Week in Cape Town, where he was a keynote speaker. During his State of the Nation address in February, President Cyril Ramaphosa said nuclear was unaffordable.
Tyabashe acknowledged the April 2017 Constitutional Court judgement that halted nuclear deals with Russia and other countries, but said he was driven by the 2010 IRP, which remained government policy until it was replaced by a new iteration.
“The IRP current version of 2010 has nuclear in it. Until it is not there we would be derelict in our duty by not doing the front-end planning. We are doing this in the eventuality that it happens. Eskom has been designed as the owner-operator and that has not changed.”
Speaking during a special session on nuclear at African Utility Week, Tyabashe said his team was working on licence applications and authorisations.
“We have started doing site licence applications. We need to understand the capability on the ground. We want to manage stakeholders to ensure all the permitting upfront is done.”
Eskom has identified Thyspunt, near Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, as a preferred site for a new nuclear power station.
Coega Development Corporation (CDC), which last year signed a nuclear energy cooperation agreement with Eskom, believes building a nuclear power station in the Eastern Cape will bring significant financial benefits. CDC programme manager Meike Wetsch, who acknowledged the risks associated with financing nuclear construction and the need for transparency, said that the provincial economy would benefit from a nuclear energy project, which could create 34 000 jobs.
Proponents of nuclear argued that it was essential to create jobs and build the economy both in South Africa and the Southern African region.
“We have taken a decade to get out of load-shedding. We need to get the nuclear programme back again and understand what it can do for our economy,” NuEnergy Developments director Des Muller said at African Utility Week.
He estimated that construction costs would be R60-billion per GWh and noted that the R1-trillion figure frequently mentioned in public forums and the media “has not been substantiated with any facts, documents or tender”.
He said the benefits of nuclear far outweighed the costs in the long run.
Greg Kaser, senior project manager for the World Nuclear Association, UK, said the nuclear process had to be transparent.
“Clearly, if there has been an issue about transparency in the selection of the provider in South Africa, then you only have one answer: ‘You have to repeat the exercise’.”
He said there were many options to choose from.
“There are a number of international vendors in the market. With not many projects around, you should be able to get a very good deal whatever you do.”
Ditebogo Kgomo, who manages compliance assurance and enforcement for the National Nuclear Regulator, called for a shift in the way nuclear is communicated.
“We need to be honest about the risks in these projects and honest about where the benefits will go. You are not going to get away with not being transparent. We should not think the public is stupid.”