South Africa is considering nuclear again

Published on : 11/01/2021 – 00:11Modified : 11/01/2021 – 03:48

In South Africa, the Minister of Energy, Gwede Mantashe, put the nuclear option back on the table, to complete the energy mix, and turn the page on all coal. The minister would like to develop a 2,500 million program by 2030, and the regulator Nersa invites contributors who so wish to submit their comments by early February. But the failures of previous years in the nuclear issue raise questions.

The nuclear sector welcomes this opening up, and intends to position itself as an alternative to coal in the country. For Knox Msebenzi of the nuclear union NIASA, this is an opportunity for South Africa.

« We are moving towards a more diversified energy mix. Of course, renewables will have their place, but nuclear will also be important to provide a base load, as coal-fired power plants will soon be phased out. We are already the first to have this technology on the continent. And we want to develop it. We will be looking for a partner who can help us master these new skills. »

An American company has already shown interest, since the announcement of Minister Gwede Mantashe. But for Chris Yelland, a specialist in energy issues, the government has yet to decide anything, and above all seeks to see what options are on the table, and for what costs.

« I don’t think a decision has been made, but this is more preparatory work. A new nuclear power plant is a long-term commitment, around 80 years. There are questions that arise around financing, as new, much more flexible technologies are emerging. And there are many uncertainties, it is not known, in the future, what will be the demand for electricity from the grid. »

It must be said that the country is now wary of mega-projects, which opened the door to corruption scandals under Jacob Zuma. A highly contested and overpriced agreement was also made secretly with Russia in 2014, before being canceled by the courts.

Julius Kleynhans, from the anti-corruption organization OUTA, therefore no longer trusts these programs:

« South Africa has seen a state capture, and bad decisions have been made for personal gain, not for the good of the country. We are now experiencing serious financial difficulties. So we don’t have any money for these kinds of projects, especially if they are not well managed, and if the delivery dates are not respected. And unfortunately, the government’s record tends to be in this direction. »

The country’s environmental organizations are also concerned about waste management, and safety concerns, as a unit at the Koeberg power plant, near Cape Town, had to be shut down for repairs.

Other countries on the continent are also showing interest in nuclear energy, such as Rwanda, supported by Russia. Egypt is expected to start building a power plant soon.

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