Nuclear energy future imminent, despite delays in updated IRP

16th February 2018 By: Simone Liedtke - Writer

Nuclear energy future  imminent, despite  delays in updated IRP

SHANE PEREIRA South Africa has a strong nuclear industry

South Africa-based engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) company Lesedi Nuclear Services (Lesedi) business development executive Shane Pereira believes that there is a future for nuclear power globally, although it is being hindered locally by the delay in passing the updated Integrated Resource Plan (IRP).

Nuclear power can provide a stable, cost-effective and green source of baseload power, but it is the updated IRP that will give an indication as to the future prospects of nuclear in the country, he explains.

“South Africa has a strong nuclear industry, as is evidenced by the successful operation of the Koeberg nuclear power station, in Cape Town, for over 30 years, with an energy availability factor of 93.4%, and the 20 MW tank-in-pool-type nuclear research reactor Safari 1 at Pelindaba, west of Pretoria, for over 50 years,” Pereira enthuses to Engineering News.

However, he says, while South Africa has a wealth of knowledge in this field, a lack of skills – including those of artisans in the energy sector – will impact on the choices made in the updated IRP and, in turn, the suc- cess of the country’s larger development vision contained in the National Development Plan.

To assist in this regard, Pereira highlights the Lesedi Skills Academy, in the Western Cape, which is accredited by the Manufacturing, Engineering and Related Services Sector Education and Training Authority, known as MerSETA, and which aims to refine its artisan training programmes to produce skills that meet the requirements if the highest quality and safety standards in the nuclear and broader energy sectors internationally.

At times, Lesedi absorbs qualified artisans from its Skills Academy into its maintenance teams performing work at Koeberg and abroad (since 2006, Lesedi has provided skilled maintenance personnel internationally on over 75 interventions at more than 15 nuclear plants in the US, UK, Spain, France and Brazil).

After having completed the programme, learners are equipped not only as skilled artisans, but also with knowledge of the global nuclear industry’s level of occupational health, safety and environmental policies and requirements, technical knowledge and skills and human performance tools.

Pereira further notes that the Lesedi Skills Academy offers training through short courses, skills programmes and qualifications in the fields of Mechanical Fitting, Basic Welding and Boilermaking.

Candidates are either placed in formal learnerships or in apprenticeship programmes that lead to a fully recognised qualification assessed and moderated by the National Artisan Moderation Body, a Quality Council for Trades and Occupations established by the Skills Development Act No 97 of 1998.

Diversified Focus

Pereira notes that, with Lesedi having been substantially involved in the construction of State-owned power utility Eskom’s open-cycle gas turbines, completed in 2009, as well as ongoing maintenance and project work at Koeberg and the Medupi and Kusile power stations, the company has diversified its offerings to include other types of power projects, such as biomass, waste-to-energy, hydro and gas projects in Africa.

He further mentions that Lesedi is a major contractor at the Cape Town-based Koeberg nuclear power station, where the company has completed over 150 modifications on the plant.

Lesedi was awarded preferred bidder status on the 16.5 MW Mkuze biomass renewables project, in KwaZulu-Natal, in Round 3 of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP) as well as, subsequently, the 5 MW Busby biomass project as part of the small projects REIPPPP bidding round; however, these projects never reached financial close.

These projects, which involved the burning of tops and trash from sugar cane and wood chips respectively to generate electricity, are two of several ventures that include potential waste-to-energy, gas and biomass independent power producer projects in countries such as Mauritius, Namibia, Ghana, Zambia and Mozambique.

Lesedi is also considering nuclear-related opportunities in the UK while continuing to grow its presence in Ghana, the world’s second-largest producer of cocoa and a promising mining hot spot. The company focuses on biomass and waste-to-energy projects while using the cocoa shells as a fuel source for biomass projects.

The company is also looking to expand its focus outside Africa to Saudi Arabia, which has its own nuclear project aspirations, as well as Abu Dhabi, where currently more than 90 South Africans with nuclear experience are working, notes Pereira.

“While we anticipate future build programmes in South Africa, for which we will be well positioned to assist, we are investigating the development and execution of our own power projects, as this new approach will enhance the company’s EPC competence.”

Africa Energy Indaba

Lesedi has been attending the Africa Energy Indaba (AEI) for about six years, an event that presents a platform from which the company can share ideas. Pereira adds that the event is an opportunity for it to position its value propositions to all industry stakeholders, such as technology suppliers, construction companies, developers, utilities and financiers, as well as government departments.

When asked what Lesedi hopes to achieve at the event, Pereira says: “We will be able to provide our expertise and knowledge on how the new energy landscape is shaped and what new opportunities there are to address our continent’s challenges”.

Lesedi also uses the event to keep its “ears to the ground” by meeting with company stakeholders for important discussions and networking, adds Pereira.

The company has also been involved in larger projects – such as the Steam Generator Replacement project, currently under way at Koeberg, in partnership with French nuclear technology group Areva.

The scope of work for Lesedi includes all site related works for the removal and replacement of the steam generators, which includes (but is not limited to) steam generator supports and primary pipe supports removal and replacement, clamping installation and removal for primary pipes, as well as concrete core drilling of all holes required and the closure of holes afterwards.

Owing to these, Pereira notes that Lesedi is “very well placed to share its knowledge and expertise from a South African company’s perspective”.

Lesedi CEO Francis Carruthers and nuclear engineering specialist Dr Derik Wolvaardt will be speakers at the AEI, as part of the nuclear forum, which will be held on February 20.