State seeks to build industry around big nuclear-energy roll-out

13th August 2007 By: Mariaan Webb - Creamer Media Deputy Editor Online

South Africa would like the contribution of nuclear to the country’s energy mix to more than double by 2025 to 2030, a government official said on Monday, when the State unveiled its plans to develop a viable nuclear industry.

Department of Minerals and Energy (DME) chief director Tseliso Maqnbela said that the State would was targeting to generate upwards of 15% of South Africa’s power from nuclear, by 2030. Nuclear power currently accounted for about 6% of the electricity generated in the country.

To achieve its ambitions, South Africa would seek to build a “new industry” around nuclear energy, which would lead to economic development, DG Sandile Nogxina said at a media briefing, after releasing the draft nuclear energy policy and strategy for public comment.

In this document, government expressed its ambitions and plans to become “globally competitive” in the nuclear industry,

SUPPORT FOR URANIUM BENEFICIATION

The document suggested that South Africa start beneficiating uranium, and, as part of beneficiation, possibly developing its own uranium enrichment capabilities and fuel-fabrication potential. In the 1990s, South Africa’s nuclear fuel fabrication facility was shut down.

The country might also build a facility to reprocess spent nuclear fuel and recycle the fissile material.

Maqnbela explained that radioactive waste, including nuclear fuel, would be managed in terms of the radioactive waste management policy and strategy, which was approved by the government in 2005.

But, he said that South Africa would have to consider reprocessing used nuclear fuel, and that the State would investigate the viability of building a local facility in the long term. However, as a short-term measure, the country would make use of existing commercial reprocessing facilities in other countries.

Nogxina said that the beneficiation of uranium, which was proposed in the draft nuclear energy policy and strategy, would lead to significant job creation, firstly in uranium mining, and then in the rest of the nuclear energy value chain.

Uranium mining alone was conservatively expected to create and sustain at least 10 000 additional jobs in the next decade.

He said that government had decided that uranium was a “strategic mineral” and that it would, therefore, be dealt with it in a “special way”.

Proposals to provide regulatory incentives for the mining and beneficiation of uranium were being considered.

“Government shall actively promote investment in uranium exploration and mining, and in very specific instances shall make investments in these industries, as a way of ensuring security of nuclear fuel supply for South Africa,” the policy document noted.

Nogxina said that government might decide to make investments in uranium mining, but added that it was still one of two proposals, the other being introducing a law that would require mining companies to make available a certain percentage of their uranium mined to the State.

This would mean that government might amend the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, but he said that this would be done in consultation with the mining fraternity.

“The mining industry is very sensitive to a regime change,” he said.