Nuclear site process not being fast-tracked - Eskom

Matthew le Cordeur

Cape Town – There is no rush to fast-track the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report for South Africa’s first new nuclear power station, a senior Eskom official said on Thursday.

Eskom initiated the EIA for the proposed construction of a nuclear power station (termed nuclear 1) in 2006 and is due to hand its final report to the national Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) in February 2016, according to Deidre Herbst, Eskom’s environmental manager.

“The EIA process for the nuclear 1 project is almost at the end,” she said in email correspondence.

The process recommended that the first power station built as part of the 9 600 MW nuclear procurement programme should be constructed in Thyspunt near St Francis in the Eastern Cape.

“This EIA is for a 4 000 MW nuclear facility,” Herbst told Fin24 via phone.

“It is anticipated that, after the current public participation period, which commenced on 23 September 2015, comments will be incorporated into the final environmental impact report (EIR) and submitted to the DEA for decision.”

“The submission of the Final EIR is anticipated to take place in February 2016,” she explained. “In terms of legislation, the DEA has a total of 115 calendar days, from the date of submission, to issue a decision.

“There are several activities which take place in this period, including 14 days to acknowledge receipt of Final EIR, 60 days to acknowledge acceptance of final EIR, 45 days to make a decision, and a further 10 days to notify the applicant of the decision.”

Eskom initially bought land at Thypunt decades ago, when it was earmarked as a potential nuclear site, but recently it bought more land to increase the area for the proposed power station. It is now 3 800 ha and the footprint during construction would be 250 ha, dropping to a lesser size once complete, explained Herbst.

“This is the most comprehensive EIA ever done in South Africa in terms of detail, public participation, and the content of specialist studies,” she told Fin24 on Thursday.

She said there are over 4 500 interested and affected parties on the stakeholder database, while EIA reports were made available at 33 public venues.

“Executive summaries of the main report and specialist studies are translated into Afrikaans and Xhosa,” she said, adding that 32 specialist studies were conducted.

Government could start the nuclear procurement process before a final EIA report is authorised by the DEA, she said. “It is my understanding that an authorised site is not a prerequisite to start the nuclear procurement process.”

Eskom tasked Gibb in 2006 to conduct the independent EIA and environmental management plan for nuclear 1 and associated infrastructure on one of five pre-identified alternative siting areas.

“The consideration of alternative locations for the proposed nuclear 1 power station was derived from the findings of the nuclear site investigation programme study undertaken by independent consultants during the 1980s and the findings of the scoping phase of this EIA process,” said Herbst.

The five alternative siting areas that were investigated at the scoping phase, were (1) Brazil and (2) Schulpfontein in the Northern Cape on the West Coast between Kleinzee and Hondeklip Bay, (3) Bantamsklip in the Western Cape on the coast next to Pearly Beach, east of Hermanus, (4) Duynefontein, in the Western Cape next to the existing Koeberg power station and (5) Thyspunt in the Eastern Cape on the coast between Oyster Bay and St Francis Bay.

Herbst said that while Gibb had recommended Thyspunt, government could still decide to first build at Duynefontein near Koeberg.