SA looks nearly set to start new nuclear power station build programme

5th April 2013

By: Keith Campbell

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor


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The South African government has signalled that it is set on pursuing its plan, contained in the Integrated Resource Plan 2010-2030, to construct new nuclear power plants (NPPs) and increase the country’s amount of nuclear-generated electricity to 9.6 GW by 2030. This is in part to help meet South Africa’s growing electricity needs and in part to reduce the country’s high greenhouse-gas emissions.

Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe recently reaffirmed South Africa’s “right to research, develop, produce 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.” He is the chairperson of the National Nuclear Energy Executive Coordinating Committee (NNEECC). This, he explained, “is tasked with making high-level recommendations concerning [the] nuclear energy programme to Cabinet”.

Motlanthe 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 develop- ment 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,” he admitted. Never-theless, the country’s long-term socioeco- nomic development required the development of “sustainable and climate-friendly” energy sources. He referred to 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.”

Build Benefits
The construction of new NPPs 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 are 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.

At the same conference, Energy Minister Dipuo Peters affirmed that government has the will to implement a nuclear energy programme. “There is political will in this country to use nuclear for peaceful purposes,” she said.

She pointed out that nuclear power provided baseload energy and that, although the country would make use of solar and wind power, it could not rely on them. “The reason we have to include nuclear in our [energy] plan,” she explained, “is because we want to reduce coal and our economy is energy intensive.” Other options to reduce the country’s carbon dioxide emissions were biomass and gas, she cited. But “[we] must include nuclear”.

“Nuclear creates an opportunity for us to create jobs that would be decent and sustainable,” she affirmed. “We want careers. Nuclear provides an opportunity for careers, not just jobs.” She strongly urged the nuclear industry to focus on the Eastern Cape province. “The Eastern Cape has positioned itself as an energy hub. Wind, solar, but also the potential of shale gas,” she highlighted. “If you add the cherry on the top, nuclear, this makes the province an industrial hub. We also want you to organise more events in the area. Conduct surveys into the industrial capacity [in the Eastern Cape], not just in Gauteng. I would like to see a nuclear training centre set up [there]. This is an opportunity for sustainable jobs for people right on their doorsteps, the people of the Eastern Cape.”

Peters acknowledged that the cost of the planned nuclear power programme had increased but reported that government had already incorporated a price increase in its planning. Moreover, she stated, the cost of renewable energy had also increased, noting, drily, that environmental groups never pointed this out. The Minister also averred that the delay in launching the new NPP construction programme had been the result of government’s determination to ensure that the country obtained the maximum possible industrial participation from the programme, thereby fulfilling the objectives of the Industrial Policy Action Plan.

Peters said that government had taken the issue of nuclear power out into the communities, to let them make up their own minds. “We went out to our communities, to our schools.” One of the aims is to let people know that nuclear technology is not only about power stations and bombs, but also about medicine and agriculture, for example. A nuclear education centre has been set up by the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa). “The more you engage people, the more you enlighten them, the more they are informed.”

Issues and Concerns

Government has proceeded carefully since the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan some two years ago. It had the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) investigate the safety of national electricity utility Eskom’s Koeberg NPP and Necsa’s Safari-1 research reactor. (Koeberg is near Cape Town and Safari-1 is at Pelindaba, west of Pretoria.) The outcome of both safety reviews was positive, with only minor changes required.

On top of this, South Africa became the first country with an existing nuclear programme to ask the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to survey the country’s nuclear sector using the framework provided by the IAEA document “Milestones in the Development of a National Infrastructure for Nuclear Power”. This review has recently been completed. It covers the 19 milestones listed in the document.

In order, these are safeguards, management, electrical grid, nuclear safety, national position, radiation protection, regulatory framework, legislative framework, funding and financing, human resources development, security and physical protection, site and supporting facilities, environmental protection, stakeholder involvement, industrial involvement, emergency planning, nuclear fuel cycle, radioactive waste and procurement (procurement management).

Reportedly, the IAEA has expressed some concern that the NNR reports to Parliament through the Department of Energy, which is the executive authority. The international agency feels that a conflict-of-interest situation could arise. However, NNR acting CEO Thabo Tselane has given the assurance that his organisation will maintain a high level of nuclear safety and security in the organisations it oversees. “The regulator will continue to exercise regulatory oversight without fear, favour and prejudice. Firm, fair and not ‘familiar’.” He asserted that nuclear safety had to be a culture, not a compliance issue. “We all need to contribute to the strengthening of nuclear safety.”
A good nuclear regulator is an imperative for a successful nuclear programme, highlighted Necsa CEO Phumzile Tshelane. Other such imperatives include the clarification of the roles of government, government organisations, and the private sector, human resources development, radioactive waste management, emergency preparedness and response and public engagement. He opined that the NNEECC provided a clear leadership structure at the national level.
Nuclear companies seeking to sell their reactor designs to South Africa should take care to ensure that their localisation programmes incorporate black economic empowerment (BEE), warned Westinghouse Electric South Africa regional VP Professor Itumeleng Mosala. (This company is the local subsidiary of US integrated nuclear energy company Westinghouse Electric, itself part of Japan’s Toshiba Corporation.) “The relationship between localisation and BEE – from my sense of where the government is, the political situation, we ought to find a way in which localisation and BEE are interacting quite well. The industry will ignore at its peril the relationship between localisation and BEE.”
National Society of Black Engineers president Caesar Mtetwa pointed out to the nuclear industry the existence of his organisation and its members. “I represent the people that everyone in the country says don’t exist. Where are they? They are here! We are ignored.” The society has a current membership of about 800 black engineers and about 1 000 black engineering students and was started by engineering students some ten years ago.
“We all know that technology is a powerful force that has changed society at large. Nuclear power is no different,” he avered. Regarding local opposition to the use of nuclear energy, he affirmed that in “our organisation, we largely blame this on a lack of knowledge. Let’s educate our people about it. Let’s spend our time getting our people behind it”.

Benefits and Challenges

The effective implementation of the county’s proposed new NPP construction programme would deliver a number of significant benefits to the country, argued Necsa’s Tshelane. “A successful new build programme would develop skills, create sustainable jobs, create wealth, especially at a regional level, and develop entrepreneurial skills, especially of the youth,” he affirmed. “We’re not planning for a turnkey solution.”

However, he cautioned that the establishment of a nuclear infrastructure in the country “was a complex matter requiring many years of preparation”. Tshelane quoted IAEA deputy DG: nuclear energy Dr Yuri Sokolov, who stated that “[when] we talk about infrastructure, we mean a system that provides legal, regulatory, technical, human and industrial support to ensure the effectiveness of the nuclear power programme and ensure that obligations for safety, security and safeguards are met”.

Tshelane also warned local industry that it must prepare itself for nuclear localisation. This could be with or without strategic partners, and applied to fields such as engineering and procurement, manu- facturing, construction and construction management. The necessary certifications would be essential.

Necsa itself has had a nuclear manu- facturing capability since 1962. For more than 20 years it has held ASME (formerly the American Society of Mechanical Engineers) Section VIII U-stamp certification, which means that it can manufacture pressure vessels to Section VIII standards. In 2011, it achieved ASME Section III certification and recently obtained ISO 3834 (Part 2) certification. As a result, Necsa is now the country’s first nuclear-certified manufacturer.

“We, as South African industry, can do complex projects,” affirmed Concor MD Mile Sofijanic. (Concor is a Murray & Roberts group company.) “But there are challenges. Current major projects are running late and over budget. Businesses are not aligned with labour.” The result is labour unrest, including strikes. “If we follow the trend, could the NPP programme cost, not R300-billion, but R750-billion? That is not acceptable!”

The country needs a different approach to avoid the problems that currently plague its major projects. Approaches that work in other countries, based on an adequate supply of skilled labour, might not work in South Africa, he cautioned. “We have a lack of skills. That is factually correct. But skills alone will not resolve our current problems, our current challenges. Skills must be aligned with the needs of the country.”

What is needed, he argued, is alignment. Horizontal alignment between all the stakeholders – government, business, labour, the local communities and so on. Vertical alignment within the programme supply chain. “All together will form ‘SA Inc.’.” And vertical alignment within each local company taking part in the programme – between project management, construction and/or fabrication manage-ment and frontline labour. “We need to have a masterplan,” he asserted. “Key stakeholders must be engaged and aligned. South African industry has limited capacity and capability so it has to work together – there is no option.”

But local industry must not undervalue itself, Sofijanic pointed out. “South African industry needs to learn but also could offer advice to companies coming to South Africa – a partnership of equals. South African industry needs to start nuclear participation through strategic partnerships.”

Rusatom Overseas South Africa representative Alexander Kirillov estimated the manpower requirements for the full 9.6 GW NPP programme at some 2 000 nuclear engineers, 2 000 project engineers and 27 000 construction workers. “That’s a lot of people to be trained. Russia has all the facilities [to help].”

“Localisation is a very important issue,” said Kirillov. (Rusatom Overseas is an international marketing office for Russia’s State-owned Rosatom fully-integrated nuclear energy group.) “What we estimate is that South Africa can have up to 40% of the initial stage of the 9.6 [GW new NPP construction] programme. With the development of the programme to units 7 and 8, localisation can be increased to 60% to 65%. But this is a long way to go. The localisation programme can give to South African companies financial benefits. Rosatom’s offer is to include South African suppliers in their global supply chain.” Rosatom will probably offer South Africa its VVER-1000 and VVER-1200 reactor designs.

“Today’s new [NPP] build requires a global supply chain and a significant in-country content,” affirmed Mosala of Westinghouse. “We aim to ‘buy were we build’ as much as possible.” Westinghouse always seeks to work with local players.

“The whole issue of the supply chain becomes particularly important,” he stated. “We cannot be classed simply as a US vendor, but as a global supplier with a strong emphasis on local content. This [approach] will be applied to other markets, not least South Africa. We supply all over the world and our suppliers are from all over the world. We can start doing business now – we don’t have to wait for when the [South African] new build comes.”

The group is active around the world, including new build programmes, projects and proposals in China, the US and UK. It is currently building its latest reactor design, the AP1000, in China. The first unit should start generating electricity next year. Mosala highlighted that the Chinese programme has “a very strong emphasis on technology transfer and localisation of AP1000 technologies”. The same reactor will probably be proposed to South Africa.

Apart from Westinghouse and Rosatom, Areva of France and South Korea’s Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco) are known to be interested in bidding for South Africa’s new NPP programme. Areva is likely to offer its European Pressurised Water Reactor (or EPR) design and Kepco its APR-1400. These, and the AP1000 and the VVER-1000 and -1200, are all Generation III or III+ designs.

Edited by Martin Zhuwakinyu
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor



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