Addressing the media on Monday on government's programme of action as part of the economic cluster, Minister of Public Enterprises Alec Erwin said nuclear energy would continue to form a central plank of government's energy strategy.
This will be in conjunction with the current massive build programmes of State-owned electricity provider Eskom, in new gas turbine plants and the rehabilitation of mothballed coal-fired power stations to meet the country's surging electricity demand as the economy continues to grow.
At the same time, South Africa will also continue to develop the local nuclear industry as an affordable and environmentally sound alternative to gas and coal-fired sources, said the minister.
“To that end,” he said, “we are finalising a national nuclear energy strategy which will be a comprehensive policy that will look at the utilisation of nuclear energy.
“Given these developments around nuclear energy, we have decided to identify uranium as a strategic mineral,” Erwin said.
South Africa, which currently has one conventional nuclear station - Koeberg in Western Cape, which contributes baseload power of about 1 800 MW to the national grid - is on track for another conventional nuclear plant.
This will be to contribute more baseload power to the areas that currently need this the most, which is the “southern part of the (national) grid”.
Erwin declined to say where exactly the country's second conventional nuclear power plant would be situated, but indicated that it would be in one of the Cape provinces and would produce baseload power upwards of 1 000 MW.
On top of this, the demonstration Pebble Bed Modular Reactor plant at Koeberg is going ahead as planned, which will provide for top-up power of about 165 MW.
In light of the expansion in the use of nuclear energy, South Africa has now identified uranium - a mineral which, when enriched, is used as nuclear fuel - as a strategic mineral.
It is also a mineral which Erwin last year told Parliament South Africa has “in abundance”, and which the country is eager to add value to as it builds its nuclear energy capacity.
“We are developing a uranium mining and beneficiation strategy.”
Such a strategy would enable South Africa to “beneficiate” - add value to - the raw material of uranium rather than to import the enriched fuel, the raw material for which it has in abundance.
This would be more cost-effective for South Africa, Minerals and Energy Minister Bulelwa Sonjica told BuaNews on Monday, “so we would beneficiate our own mineral”.
Declaring uranium a strategic mineral, she added, would lead to more controls over its production and exportation to ensure that South Africa has adequate reserves of the mineral in years to come.
“We can't export uranium when we want to embark on a nuclear programme,” she said. “We want to ensure that all the time, when we need it, we have reserves in store.”
That would be strategic way of dealing with it, she said, adding that there would be limitations on the export of uranium.
“We'll be managing it very carefully,” Sonjica said.
“Ensuring security of energy supply in South Africa is also a key priority, especially in light of the significant economic growth that the country has experienced,” Erwin said.
In the meantime, South Africa will be looking at other, alternative energy sources such as biofuels and the creation of a liquid fuels infrastructure, he said.
“As part of our clean energy strategy and ensuring security of supply were are looking at the exploration of coal bed methane, which will be utilised for power generation,” Erwin said earlier. - BuaNews