SA mulls uranium export restrictions to safeguard supply

26th November 2008 By: Chanel de Bruyn - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online

South Africa would implement interventions with regard to the export of uranium to ensure that the country retained an adequate supply for its own electricity-generation needs, the Department of Minerals and Energy's (DME's) director of nuclear non-proliferation Elsie Monale asserted on Wednesday.

Speaking at the Institute for International Research's Nuclear & Uranium Summit in Johannesburg, Monale stated that South Africa and Southern Africa had an abundance of uranium and that the country should benefit from its minerals.

She noted that South Africa was currently supplying uranium only to the export market.

Monale would not be drawn on how the DME or government planned to intervene in the export of uranium.

However, a former deputy DG Gordon Sibiya said that the government would not nationalise uranium mines and that the intention of such intervention was purely to ensure that South Africa had sufficient stocks of uranium to satisfy its own generation needs.

Sibiya agreed that South Africa "was well-endowed with uranium", noting that the country held 7% of the world's economically recoverable reserves and that it was the eleventh biggest producer of uranium.

Meanwhile, Monale said that South Africa's nuclear energy policy and strategy included other interventions, such as investment in nuclear capacity and research and development.

Also on the cards could be the rekindling of local uranium beneficiation, specifically participation in the production of nuclear fuel.

Monale said that the DME wanted South Africa to become self-reliant in terms of nuclear energy generation.

Sibiya noted that it was important for South Africa to mine and process its own uranium, saying that the nuclear policy allowed for the nuclear sector to participate in the entire nuclear fuel cycle.

However, he stated that it was unlikely that South Africa would in the reprocess nuclear waste in the near term, give the cost associated with such processes.

Meanwhile, business development director at French nuclear power solutions provider Areva, Dr Yves Guinon, said that the group wanted to be more than just a vendor in South Africa and that it was investing in the local industry, in local skills development, black economic-empowerment and in mining.

The group had already, in 2007, bought a stake in UraMin, which had uranium projects in the Karoo in South Africa, in Namibia and the Central African Republic.

Guinon stated that the mining of uranium was important to the group.

Further, he noted that the world would require about 30 000 terawatt hours of nuclear electricity generation by 2030.

Meanwhile Westinghouse Electricity Company South Africa regional vice-president Dr Rita Bowser asserted that her company wanted to achieve "global growth through nuclear industry localisation".

Bowser stated that the company's business model incorporated the transfer of technology local suppliers, and had proved successful in a number of countries worldwide. Many of those local partners were now also supplying equipment into the nuclear-industry's global supply chain.

She explained that these suppliers would not necessarily be owned by Westinghouse, but would supply equipment or power components under a licence agreement.

Such a model was beneficial to the group as local suppliers usually had a better grasp of the differences in national electricity generation systems. But technology transfers also allowed for countries to become self-reliant in terms of the supply of equipment and construction of power plants.

Bowser added that Westinghouse's AP1000 pressurised water reactor programme presented immediate and long-term localisation opportunities for South African suppliers and suppliers in a number of other countries currently pursuing nuclear programmes.

Both Areva and Westinghouse had submitted bids to participate in Eskom's nuclear plans.

The utility was on record as saying that it would make a decision regarding Nuclear 1 by year-end.