State-owned electricity utility Eskom has welcomed Cabinet’s decision to endorse it as the designated owner-operator of nuclear energy plants in South Africa in line with the Nuclear Energy Policy of 2008.
However, Eskom spokesperson Hilary Joffe says it is still awaiting a determination from Energy Minister Dipuo Peters with regard to nuclear, as well as guidance on the process that will be followed.
Cabinet received a briefing this week following the inaugural meeting of the National Nuclear Energy Executive Coordination Committee (NNEECC), which is chaired by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe. The NNEECC has been established to oversee any future nuclear procurement process, as well as any future build programme.
South Africa’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) for electricity proposes the development of 9 600 MW of new nuclear capacity for introduction into the electricity system by 2030.
Cabinet has also endorsed the proposed ‘phased decision-making approach’ for implementation of the nuclear programme, as well as a nuclear communication and stakeholder engagement strategy.
As part of this phased approach, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will conduct an integrated nuclear infrastructure review mission to South Africa during February to assess South Africa’s readiness in terms of 19 milestones outlined by the IAEA.
The review follows a domestic self-evaluation report conducted under the aegis of the NNEECC.
It is understood that the domestic review covers South Africa’s policy and political positions on nuclear, as well as the state of nuclear safety and management, the regulatory frameworks, radiation protection and legislation.
Also assessed were financing options, electrical grid and human resource capacity, siting and support facilities, environmental protection, emergency planning, security and physical protection, the nuclear fuel cycle, radioactive waste management, industrialisation prospects and procurement models.
The Cabinet statement comes against the backdrop of increasing pressure from Eskom and potential independent power producers (IPPs) for government to offer firmer direction on the future implementation of the IRP, beyond the momentum that has been created by the signing of the first 28 renewable-energy project agreements.
The Department of Energy has moved ahead with a Ministerial determination opening the way for the procurement of about 7 800 MW of baseload capacity from IPPs by 2025, as well as a further 3 200 MW of renewables by 2020, over and above the 3 725 MW currently being procured.
However, there is growing pressure for similar determinations related to possible future large-scale coal and nuclear projects, which would be required to replace the current Eskom fleet, some of which will have to be retired in the coming decades.