Reviving a nuclear enrichment programme in South Africa to provide fuel for a proposed 10 000-MW nuclear power station fleet by 2030, would involve and investment of between R10-billion and R15-billion, the head of the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation, or Necsa, reveals.
Speaking during a recent nuclear energy round table in Johannesburg, Dr Rob Adam said that, while modest, the fleet envisaged in the draft second integrated resource plan, or IRP2010, was sufficient in scale to facilitate the economic production of nuclear fuel assemblies in South Africa.
The country, which developed enrichment facilities in Pelindaba, north of Pretoria, for both military and civilian purposes during apartheid, voluntarily abandoned its enrichment activities ahead of the advent of democracy in 1994.
However, in recent years, the country, which is keen to increase the beneficiation of its natural resources, including uranium, has signalled its intention to possibly re-enter the nuclear-fuel cycle for “peaceful purposes”.
Adam said that the legal frameworks were in place, through the Nuclear Energy Act, to facilitate such an endeavour and that he also did not envisage the programme infringing on any of the country’s international commitments.
“We have full inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. We have acceded to the relevant treaties and we would run an entirely open and inspectable process. So, there aren’t any legal issues that are not already attended to,” Adam said.
Necsa was also not overly concerned that South Africa’s prevailing tight power supply balance would constrain aspirations to invest in enrichment activities. This, owing to the fact that the first new nuclear capacity was only anticipated in 2023, by which stage the shortfall was not expected to be a constraint on new energy-intensive investment projects.
Various studies had already been conducted into the most suitable technologies, as well as the market demand required to support an investment into domestic enrichment.
Adam said that a facility capable of supplying the anticipated fleet could cost anywhere between R10-billion and R15-billion, which was relatively modest when compared with the expected price tag of around R120-billion for a 4 800-MW power plant.
It also demonstrated, he said, that the fuel element of any nuclear programme was relatively low cost, which supported the notion that, while nuclear facilities were expensive to build, they were relatively low-cost once operating.