South Africa considers nuclear power

Pretoria - Generating electricity with the use of nuclear power technology is an option being considered by government, says Energy Minister Dipuo Peters.

"The acute need to secure reliable energy supplies and the urgent requirement to reduce carbon emissions has put nuclear energy firmly on the agenda as a viable choice to be pursued in order to achieve an acceptable energy mix for our country," the minister told a media roundtable on Wednesday.

She said nuclear energy was becoming a preferred solution to address matters related to energy security and independence and in efforts to mitigate the dangers posed by climate change.

Other countries are also showing renewed interest in nuclear energy, while others are considering expanding their existing programmes, such as South Africa.

South Africa in 2008 approved the Nuclear Energy Policy, which the country is now in the stages of implementing with the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) playing an important role.

The minister said government believed that nuclear technology should be pursued because it was a technology that could effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions and was a proven baseload electricity option. It is also economically competitive and is safe if it is well managed.

Cognisant of issues such as the disposal and storage of long term radioactive waste, the safety of people and the protection of the environment, government is in the process of establishing the National Radioactive Waste Management Institute (NRWMI), which will assume responsibility of managing radioactive waste disposal at a national level.

Peters said government will only make a decision regarding nuclear power once the draft Integrated Resource Plan (IRP2010) is approved with inputs from all stakeholders.

"Nuclear power is a long term programme and to meet targets of the draft IRP, some work must start more than 12 years before a single watt of power is produced from new nuclear."

The IRP is a 20-year-electricity capacity plan for South Africa. It aims to provide an indication of the country's electricity demand; how this demand will be supplied and what it will cost.
On whether power parastatal Eskom be involved in the build programme of nuclear power, the minister said: "This is still being considered at government level, among a few other options. We will make this decision based on what is best for the country going forward."

South Africa currently does not have the skills to run a large fleet base of nuclear stations.

"We do not have the skills base right now and neither do we require it today. In this regard, the long timeframes of a nuclear programme allows us sufficient time to develop the appropriate skills," said Peters.

The uptake of nuclear power, which South Africa gave up years ago, will result in major job creation opportunities.

- BuaNews