Time Running Out For Nuclear Decision

Time running out for nuclear build decision, Eskom head warns again

By: Keith Campbell

11th May 2012

If South Africa’s first new nuclear power plant (NPP) is to be completed by 2023, the decision to build it will have to be made soon, reaffirmed Eskom CEO Brian Dames at the recent National Union of Mineworkers Nuclear Workshop, “if not this year, then early next year ”.

“Hopefully, we can expect some determination this year from government.”

The reason is that a lot of work will have to be done to prepare for the new NPP. This will include the construction of significant infrastructure, including roads, bridges and port facilities.

“Skills requirements and development are a significant challenge,” he cited. “It needs to start immediately.” He assured that the electricity utility had a “very systematic life-cycle approach” to the planning of all its projects, including nuclear. Eskom has been carrying out nuclear site selection for about 20 years and has employed international best practice for seismic studies.

The utility is developing its user requirements specifications and financing models for the nuclear new build programme. It has carried out environmental- impact assessments (EIAs) and obtained other authorisations regarding the three preferred candidate sites for new NPPs, namely Duynefontein, Bantamskip and Thyspunt. (Although more precise EIAs will have to be done once it has been decided which design of NPP will be acquired.)

The company has also devoted a lot of effort to studying localisation and technology transfer opportunities for South African industry. In this, it has been working with government. “Our approach will be to maximise local content,” he affirmed. By the time the country is building its seventh new NPP, local content should have reached more than 70%. (For the first new unit, local content would be about 33%.) It has been estimated that the new NPP programme could directly create 32 000 jobs and could be “a launch pad for the reindustrialisation of South Africa”.

“Skills development, job creation, greater industrialisation [and] development – certainly its possible to align these [with the new NPP programme],” he stated. He indicated that Eskom would like partners in its new NPP programme but that it would want to have the majority shareholding in any joint ventures. “We would not go ahead with this on our own. But we believe that the parastatals should lead – should have the majority.”

One of the strategic imperatives facing Eskom is the need to reduce its high carbon footprint, the result of its heavy dependence on coal-fired power stations. “We certainly see renewables playing a bigger role [in energy production]. And we certainly see nuclear playing a role,” assured Dames. He added that no single power technology would be able to serve the country’s needs. “Eskom exists for two reasons: to grow this economy and to improve the quality of life of the people. Our support for renewables and nuclear [also] fall within this context.”

The company currently operates the only NPP on the African continent (although a number of African countries do operate much smaller research reactors, as does South Africa). This is the Koeberg NPP, near Cape Town. “We currently provide about 5% of South Africa’s power from nuclear,” he pointed out. “This will rise to 14% to 16%.” (Koeberg provides about 50% of the electricity supply of the Western Cape province.)

Under the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 2010, South Africa should have 9.6 GW of new nuclear capacity by 2030. Ulti-mately, nuclear could account for 23% of the country’s electricity. The IRP2010 assumes 3% year-on-year electricity growth for the next 20 years, and also covers issues such as raw water use in the production of energy. One of the objectives of the IRP is to reduce the use of water by electricity generators.

Edited by: Martin Zhuwakinyu

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