Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe reaffirmed on Monday South Africa's "right to research, develop and use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes". He was delivering the keynote address at the Nuclear Africa 2013 conference in Midrand. "We will continue to develop and promote nuclear energy."
Motlanthe is the chairperson of the National Nuclear Energy Executive Coordinating Committee. He highlighted that the country cannot achieve its social and economic development objectives without energy. "The need for a clear-minded approach on energy is all the more important."
The country's economy, he pointed out, has, for more than a century, been centred on the minerals sector. This "has been central to our development in fundamental ways. It still provides over half of our exports. At the core of this mineral-driven economy has been coal."
"However, it has become crystal-clear that coal is not a long-term solution of our needs," he affirmed. "Because of coal, our country is listed among the world's largest emitters of carbon dioxide." Moreover, the country's coal power stations were concentrated in the north-east region and required long transmission lines to reach most of the rest of the country. This was not wise.
"It is clear that in the medium term coal will have a role to play in mitigating our energy challenges," admitted Motlanthe. Nevertheless, the country's long-term socioeconomic development required the development of "sustainable and climate-friendly" energy sources. He affirmed the "role that will be played by nuclear energy". "Admittedly," he added, "the use of nuclear energy to mitigate greenhouse gases remains controversial. We remain committed to invest in clean energy from multiple sources."
"South Africa's electricity generation has to be increased significantly in the next few decades to facilitate economic growth and development," he stressed. "We need to produce electricity in other parts of the country, to spread electricity production points around the grid. This requires us to use other energy sources apart from coal. Nuclear is ideal."
The construction of new nuclear power plants could benefit South African industry. Local companies have displayed their competence with the construction of new coal power stations, he cited. "It is essential that South African industry position itself to export nuclear power plant components," which will require local companies to form international strategic partnerships. Construction of such components demands very high standards, which is a "challenge that must be overcome".
"South Africa has well-established regulatory and health and safety standards that a well-adapted to the nuclear industry," assured Motlanthe. "Nuclear safety assurance -- and our success in this -- should be maintained. Such quality assurance is of great importance to assure our public of nuclear power safety."
The Deputy President reminded his audience that a successful nuclear programme depended not only on high-level decision-making but also on public support. Winning public support was essential.