While South Africa’s new nuclear power plant construction programme is still in abeyance, Brazil is moving forward with its own nuclear power expansion programme, which could be worth more than $24-billion by 2030. And this could be just the first stage in a programme that would run until 2060.
Currently, Brazil, like South Africa, has two nuclear power reactors in operation at a single power plant. South Africa’s plant, located at Koeberg, near Cape Town, in the Western Cape, has a nominal capacity of 1 930 MW and contributes about 5% of the country’s electricity.
The Brazilian reactors are located at Angra dos Reis in Rio de Janeiro state, with the first, designated Angra 1 (commissioned in 1985), having a generating capacity of 657 MWe, while the second, Angra 2 (commissioned in 2000), has a capacity of 1 350 MWe, and together they supply about 3% of Brazil’s electricity.
However, a third reactor, Angra 3, which is an updated version of Angra 2 and which will also have a generating capacity of 1 350 MWe, is now under construction alongside the existing two units, and is expected to be commissioned in 2014.
Interestingly, Angra 1 was acquired from US group Westing-house, while Angra 2 came from Germany’s Siemens. Because of corporate activity in Europe, design authority for Angra 2 and 3, and construction responsibility for Angra 3, are now vested in Areva, of France.
While the plan announced by South Africa’s State-owned national electricity utility, Eskom, foresaw the building of 20 GW of nuclear power by 2025, which should amount to 30% of the utility’s total generating capacity by that date, the Brazilian programme aims at the construction of between four and eight nuclear power reactors by 2030. Civil works for the first two of the new reactors are planned to start in 2012 and they are forecast to come into operation in 2019 and 2020.
Assuming eight are built, this would bring the value of the programme to more than $24-billion and they would add 8 GWe in generating capacity and should account for about 6% of the country’s electricity supply by that time. By 2060, the Brazilian government hopes that the country will have 60 GWe of nuclear generating capacity.
Little wonder, then, that the main international nuclear reactor companies – Areva, Westinghouse and Rosatom of Russia – are beating a path to Brazil’s door. Technology transfer to Brazil will be obligatory in any deal – indeed, technology transfer was part of the deal which saw the construction of Angra 2. The country seeks to develop its own nuclear industry. Brazil already mines uranium – it currently has the sixth-largest uranium reserves in the world – and operates a full national fuel manufacturing cycle.
South Africa also hopes to
develop its local nuclear industry, on the back of the programme to build new nuclear power stations, in a process called localisation.
However, earlier this year, Jaco Kriek, CEO of South Africa’s PBMR Company – developing the fourth-generation pebble- bed modular nuclear reactor – warned that South Africa needed “to make decisions as a country, and soon”. “The later we leave it, the lower the possibility of localisation. Unless your domestic market is big enough – and South Africa’s isn’t – localisation works only if it is part of globalisation. If we get localisation early, South African industry will form part of the global supply chains for major companies.”
Localisation will be heavily dependent on the transfer of technology and expertise from the major international nuclear companies and, alerted Kriek, “they can invest significantly in only a limited number of countries”. Already, Finland, Canada, China, India, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and the UK (which allowed its civil nuclear reactor industry to atrophy through decades of neglect) have, or are planning, localisation programmes. Now Brazil can be added to this list.
Brazil’s electricity sector is structured totally differently to South Africa’s. About 80% of Brazilian electricity comes from hydropower. There is no national utility – although there is a national grid – controlled by a not-for- profit company. Power companies sell the electricity they generate to the national grid, usually under long-term contracts. Some of these power companies are private sector, some are owned by State governments, and one (Eletrobras) by the Federal government. Brazil’s nuclear power reactors are all owned and operated by Eletronuclear, a subsidiary of Eletrobras.