Department of Energy (DoE) Director General Nelisiwe Magubane has reaffirmed the South African government’s commitment to nuclear power as part of the country’s future energy mix. She also reported that the government is considering different ownership options for the country’s proposed new fleet of nuclear power stations. She was addressing the recent 2103 conference of the Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa (Niasa) in Port Elizabeth.
“I need to remind everyone present here today that the government of South Africa has long made a decision to implement the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 2010-2030, and is committed to nuclear power as stipulated in the IRP,” she stated. “As a government official, let me reiterate again, in March 2011, the executive, that is Cabinet, decided that 9 600 MW of energy in this country will be developed using nuclear energy.”
Although the IRP 2010-2030 is being reviewed, this is unlikely to eliminate nuclear energy from the mix. “Preliminary results indicate that if we intend to reduce our carbon footprint and also have a vibrant economic growth, nuclear energy will be part of the solution,” she pointed out. “It is a known fact that nuclear power will be the most affordable baseload option after coal. Given our climate change commitments, and the fact that some of the coal-fired power stations will retire around 2022 and require replacement, therefore nuclear power is becoming more of a necessity than an option.” The DoE has received Cabinet approval to publish its Integrated Energy Plan.
The government had decided last year that “the owner-operator of the new nuclear power plants being [sic] Eskom as the major shareholder,” she pointed out. “To assist with obtaining good financing and bring in operational experience, we are looking at various ownership options for the nuclear power plants such as an investor or equity partner to join forces with Eskom in the nuclear new build.”
“One of the projects that [is] currently haunting us is [Eskom’s] Medupi [coal-fired] power plant delays,” she highlighted. “A whole thesis can be developed on what went wrong on this project. For us as a department, we believe that there are valuable lessons that can be learned and incorporated in [the] future design of other energy projects, especially our nuclear build programme.” But “[w]e are of the view that nuclear energy can be deployed successfully, built on time and budget. Most of the Asian countries can attest to that.”
Magubane noted that the National Nuclear Energy Executive Coordinating Committee had recently been uprated and streamlined. It was now headed by President Jacob Zuma instead of by the Deputy President and included six Cabinet Ministers in place of the previous 12. This restructuring was designed to increase efficiency and decrease decision-making time. “I would like to inform everyone that there’s a lot of work happening in the background towards the rollout of the nuclear programme.”
She pointed out that the government “needs high quality advice in order to take appropriate decisions” and lamented that, although the government had been “very active” in seeking advisers, some of the preparatory work for the nuclear programme had been “less than satisfactory”. She reported that “there are many more advisory services [that] we are seeking, before and during execution of this programme.”
“I therefore challenge Niasa to also look closely on these challenges and do introspection,” she asserted. “Questions that Niasa need to ask is [sic] – do we have enough artisans and what is our plan to grow them if not? The truth is, there is a lot of homework to be done to see South Africa reach her full industrial capabilities.”
She pointed to the Department of Science and Technology’s South African Nuclear Human Assets Resource Programme and its new outgrowth, the Energy Human Capital Development and Knowledge Generation Programme. She also referred to the industrialisation programmes of the Department of Trade and Industry. “We are encouraging collaborations between [the] public and private sectors to implement available strategies to establish our local industry.”
She affirmed that South Africa’s probable shale gas reserves were not an alternative to, but rather a complement for, nuclear energy. “One can play a major role in electricity provision whereas the other provides us with a portable source of energy that can be used more efficiently directly. We are working on policies to ensure efficient use of all our energy sources. This is why we prefer to talk of a balanced energy mix."