Expanding South Africa’s nuclear power industry would boost job creation, particularly in the uranium mining and construction sectors, Energy Minister Dipuo Peters said at the National Union of Mineworkers' (NUM’s) Nuclear Energy Workshop, in Midrand, on Monday.
The Minister was reacting to concerns raised by the NUM that a focus on nuclear power would lead to the systematic phasing out of coal, which is a key job-creating industry, as the country’s main energy source.
South Africa plans to generate 9.6 GW of electricity from nuclear energy by 2030. The Integrated Resources Plan for electricity also calls for 6.3 GW of new base-load coal capacity.
Peters told the NUM forum that localisation and job creation were central to the country’s new nuclear build programme.
Not only would nuclear expansion create mining and construction jobs, it would also open opportunities in the scientific sphere. "We have sufficient local capacity in terms of scientists and scientific companies and we can capitalise from our own intellectual capacity instead of sourcing from abroad," she pointed out.
The Minister added that partnerships with local industry players and nuclear-intensive countries, such as Japan, would be important in developing a safe and efficient nuclear sector in South Africa.
"We must engage with countries where nuclear is primary to power generation and by learning from events such as Fukushima, we can safely and successfully strengthen our nuclear capacity.”
NUM deputy general-secretary Oupa Komane said the nuclear sector had a poor record in terms of transformation and beneficiation.
"In the revival of this abandoned industry the focus must be on skills development, knowledge transfer and transformation. It is imperative that any increase in the South African nuclear energy industry should be coupled to the beneficiation of our uranium resources," he urged.
Komane further warned about the possible impact of the high capital costs associated with developing nuclear infrastructure. "Analysis has shown that capital intensity leads to growth in unemployment, further to that the question also stands of how this capital cost would impact on electricity prices."
But Peters said that the long-term benefits of nuclear energy should be considered, adding that nuclear allowed for supply security, cheaper overall energy costs and a decreased carbon footprint.
“Nuclear power stations become cash cows in the long term and require less maintenance," she pointed out.
In terms of policy, Komane said that a number of policy implications had to be considered in a shift to nuclear technology.
"The government must ensure that the energy mix, as finally approved, has a proactive industrial policy that can ensure job creation by supporting more labour-intensive production and by nurturing technology with a high degree of substitutability of labour for capital," he stated.
Further, the Minister said it was important that the local nuclear power generation sector remained State-owned.