Government and the broader public should realise that nuclear is “the right way to go” to meet South Africa’s future energy needs, says Lesedi Nuclear Services CEO Francis Carruthers, adding that the nuclear new build programme will hold significant downstream benefits in terms of local manufacturing and maintenance.
Speaking to Engineering News Online on the sidelines of the Africa Energy Indaba, Carruthers suggested that government should leave the development of the proposed new nuclear power stations in the hands of the companies that have experience in building such stations.
“It will be foolish to try and reinvent the wheel. The wheel has been designed several times in other countries. We would like to take that technology or the various companies involved in nuclear and help them by integrating it into South Africa . . . without making it more expensive,” he noted.
Carruthers added that South African companies could get involved in the maintenance aspects and that government should explore what local industry can do while remaining competitive. “For example, local companies can take a technology or piece of equipment and create it locally,” he said.
This, he highlighted, depended on which company won the nuclear new build programme contract, as each company uses a different reactor. “But there are things like the fire detection systems, the radiation monitoring protection, cabling and other peripheral equipment that can be manufactured and supplied locally,” he added.
Asked what should be done to ensure that the nuclear new build programme runs within budget and on time, Carruthers quipped that it seemed that most capital projects around the world “do run late and over budget”, but that the overruns could be limited through proper planning.
He said in cases such as the construction of the Medupi power station, where Lesedi has been responsible for around $250-million of work, planning and initial construction were not sufficiently focused owing to the planning and roll-out of stadiums for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Many challenges stemmed from a lack of planning.
Carruthers said government also needed to “up its game”, putting a similar amount of effort and capital into the planning stage as it would across the entire project and should not shy away from calling on international consultants.
Other than focusing on becoming a major player in the nuclear business, Lesedi will be working towards creating closer ties with Eskom, more broadly. “At the moment, nuclear is not a very big business in South Africa . . . we are looking at other areas of power generation. This includes the refurbishment of coal-fired power stations and perhaps some biomass opportunities as well,” he noted.
Outside of South Africa, Lesedi would also continue to grow its presence in Ghana, where it opened an office a year ago. Here, the company would focus on biomass and waste-to-energy. “They are desperate for power; they have a real hunger for developing their power infrastructure,” he noted.