There is no shortage of the underlying capability needed to realise the nuclear programme and associated infrastruc-ture, provided it is planned and programmed properly, states consulting and engineering firm Gibbs’ power and energy GM, Paul Fitzsimons, adding that there are no funda-mental red flags that will inhibit the roll-out of the programme.
“People forget that South Africa was well advanced in the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) project, which was established in 1999 to develop and market small-scale, high-temperature reactors locally and inter- nationally. However, the project was moth-balled in 2010 after it had failed to find private investors and customers overseas,” he notes.
Fitzsimons says, to a certain extent, the PBMR project started the development of the nuclear industry in the country, despite the programme’s funding being put on hold.
South Africa was preparing to roll out its nuclear energy programme, which included reaching a final investment decision on procurement for six nuclear power plants, as stipulated in the country’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 2010, Energy Minister Dipuo Peters stated last month.
However, several key factors need to be in place before government can begin construction on the proposed new plants.
“The possibility of building nuclear power stations is laid out in the country’s IRP2010 as part of the current policy framework. It is a major strategic infrastructure and imple-mentation project,” states Fitzsimons.
“The Minister of Energy has indicated that nuclear energy is definitely on the agenda. For this to happen, legal, regulatory and planning frameworks need to be specified and adhered to,” he notes.
South Africa has a functioning nuclear industry, says Fitzsimons; therefore, the legislative framework, in terms of the nuclear industry, is already in place.
“The institutional framework is there and, as with any major undertaking, the frame- work must be implemented through compre-hensive programme management. After that, programmatic elements need to be laid out to highlight what needs to be done and provide a project timeframe,” he states.
Fitzsimons adds that South Africa must prove itself capable of developing timeframes and ensure proper infrastructure planning takes place before the industry can invest in solutions to mitigate challenges associated with the nuclear roll-out programme.
“Government is taking the nuclear roll-out programme seriously and has established an inter-Ministerial task team and coordinating committee on nuclear power, which is led by President Jacob Zuma, proving that there is a lot of political commitment to and involve-ment in the nuclear build programme,” he notes.
“The IRP2010 looks at the costing of various forms of power generation and indicates that the country needs a balanced portfolio of generation capacities. “There are costs identified and associated with all electricity sources, and how the funding eventu-ally rolls out into a detailed mechanism is now under consideration,” explains Fitzsimons.
Nuclear power generation is capital intensive, he adds, noting that when it comes to infrastructure for the planned new power stations, government must start thinking about economies of scale to develop a longer planning horizon and ensure that South Africa’s future electricity demand is met.
“The nuclear implementation programme will build its own momentum. The renewable-energy industry is starting to gain strength in South Africa, whereas the industry did not exist a few years ago,” Fitzsimons notes, adding that the energy sector as a whole is being localised.
One of the biggest challenges of any infra- structure project is the supporting infrastruc-ture that must be built for the project, such as roads, housing, hospitals and sewerage works, leading to economic growth and job creation.
The importance of this aspect, he says, is often not realised by the public.
Fitzsimons notes that the country will have enough qualified staff with appropriate edu- cation and training for safety-related activities at each nuclear installation throughout its life.
“The country’s regulators have a clear mandate to ensure nuclear safety for public workers and the environment,” he notes.
South Africa already has a successfully operating nuclear industry, Fitzsimons high- lights, as State-owned power utility Eskom’s Koeberg nuclear power station, in the Western Cape, has had no major mishaps since its construction in the 1970s, as with nuclear facilities at the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation, in the North West.
“The fundamental infrastructure is there and the PBMR project paved the way for the development of a large pool of nuclear experts,” he concludes.