Alocal nuclear construction industry cap- able of bolstering the local content of South Africa’s proposed nuclear energy construction programme needs to be established over the coming ten to twenty years, Department of Energy (DoE) director-general Nelisiwe Magubane told delegates to the Institute for International Research’s Nuclear Energy forum this month.
The Integrated Resource Plan for electricity indicated that South Africa could build 9 600 MW of nuclear capacity by 2030.
State power utility Eskom had also indicated that it would like to replace some of its aging coal-fired capacity with nuclear plants in order to reduce its carbon footprint, while ensuring supply security.
Should the programme proceed, government would insist on the development of a local supplier sector to create industrial opportunities and jobs around what could be a R1-trillion build programme.
“We have set goals to establish a value chain of industries capable of supplying as much as possible local content for the construction of . . . multiple nuclear power stations,” she said.
Government would also seek to develop partnerships with the private sector to address specific skills gaps that could undermine locali- sation efforts.
Magubane suggested that government develop a nuclear construction ‘culture’ in South Africa and expose artisans to the latest in nuclear technologies. She recommended that such activities be consolidated in technological hubs where niche skills qualifications could be obtained.
“We plan to achieve this through the accurate prediction and planning of the specific requirements of the proposed nuclear programmes to be undertaken, while we would, at the same time, undertake familiarisation exercises with existing technology vendors that are able to contribute to such future programmes,” she said.
The DoE would be focusing on programmes to establish a local nuclear vendor programme, with the eventual aim of establishing a ‘South Africa Incorporated’ African nuclear power station market.
To realise this aspiration, the DoE was developing frameworks on the establishment of public–private partnerships, the rules governing the programme, as well as the roll-out timeframes ahead of actual construction of the proposed plants.
“This would be well regulated in the interests of safety and would be undertaken with the appropriate government regulatory participation, including that of State-owned power utility Eskom.
We would definitely have to incorporate the lessons learned from the construction of the Medupi and Kusile coal-fired power stations,” she said.
However, DCD MD Rob King argued that South Africa already had much of the technology, as well as the skills, although not in the required numbers, to undertake nuclear projects.
He pointed to South Africa being a coal-fired power station construction powerhouse back in the 1970s and 1980s, when the country constructed about 22 power stations in a period of about ten years. “Up to 90% of the power stations’ content was locally manufactured back then. What happened? Where has this capacity gone to now?” he asked.
Although many of the people with the necessary skills needed for the construction of a nuclear power station had left South Africa, a core group remained and there was an opportunity to upscale the skills base, possibly by using expertise from Europe, where the economic crisis had resulted in fewer prospects for such individuals.
“A number of local companies could play a significant role in building new nuclear developments in South Africa. Many people do not know it, but DCD (formerly DCD-Dorbyl) had been significantly involved in the construction of South Africa’s main nuclear research facility, Pelindaba, and the country’s sole nuclear power station, Koeberg, in the Western Cape, providing a record of local nuclear construction experience,” he explained.
Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa VP Phumzile Tshelane echoed Magubane’s sentiment that government needed to be involved in ensuring high levels of local content, possibly by stipulating a minimum local component threshold of 30%.
“Focused skills development needs to take place, but in a specific South African nuclear context,” he said.
He did, however, concede that the time available to train specialised artisans for the nuclear sector was a challenge, as government wanted to get the project started.
He also noted that extensive public consultation processes would still need to be under- taken.