Nuclear must remain in South African mix, committee finds

30 November 2018

South Africa's Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) must explicitly recognise that nuclear will remain an important element of the country's energy mix, a parliamentary committee has told the country's Department of Energy.

Cape Town at sunrise (Image: Pixabay)

The Portfolio Committee on Energy (PCE) made its recommendation on 27 November when it formally adopted its report on the 2018 Draft IRP, following public hearings held in October. Portfolio committees are appointed from members of South Africa's National Assembly to provide parliamentary oversight for the work of government departments.

Energy infrastructure is a critical component of South Africa's National Development Plan (NDP), which was published in 2011 and identifies the need for investment in a strong network of economic infrastructure designed to support the country’s medium- and long-term economic and social objectives. The IRP plays a crucial role in contributing to the objectives of the NDP, the Committee said in its report.

South Africa's first IRP - IRP 2010 - came into effect in 2011, and was intended to be a "living plan" which would frequently be revised. Although it has been updated several times, subsequent versions have not been promulgated and therefore have not become official policy.

IRP 2010 called for construction of 9600 MWe of new nuclear capacity over the period to 2030, and state-owned utility Eskom in December 2016 released a request for information to support the future procurement of new nuclear capacity under the existing IRP. However, The South African High Court subsequently found ministerial determinations underpinning the nuclear procurement plans to be unlawful and unconstitutional, and the request as well as various intergovernmental nuclear cooperation agreements were set aside.

The 2018 Draft IRP proposes the addition of new coal, hydro, solar, wind and gas capacity which would lead to a generation mix by 2030 dominated by coal (46%), gas (16%), wind (15%) and solar (10%). Nuclear's 1860 MWe - the capacity of the country's currently operating Koeberg nuclear power plant - would represent 2.5% of installed capacity, less than hydro (6%) and pumped storage (4%).

The PCE report noted that stakeholders had through the public hearings welcomed the Department of Energy's move to delay any decisions on further nuclear investments, with some of the view that it should not be considered even beyond 2030. However, it also noted that other stakeholders had argued nuclear is "probably the world's only viable long-term bulk energy source" and "by far the safest, greenest, cleanest, most cost-effective, most environmentally friendly and most sustainable option". This does not mean that the IRP should have a pro-nuclear or any other bias, stakeholders said.

"It should have no bias. But what it should have, and will inevitably be forced to have, is a balance that includes a significant role for nuclear."

The PCE report also noted observations from stakeholders that - although the Draft IRP 2018 recommends further detailed studies on well-established energy technologies such as coal and nuclear before implementing these technologies - in-depth research, in particular on the socio-economic impact of nuclear programmes has already been conducted.

"The authors of the Draft IRP 2018 are seemingly unaware of these studies," it said.

The PCE found that, although the submissions for nuclear included in the scenarios underpinning the 2018 Draft IRP were based on a "fleet" of two 1500 MWe units over a short space time - a scenario in which nuclear became the "most expensive" technology - there was no pre-determined decision to exclude nuclear as such.

"There is no persuasive argument to counter the proposition that nuclear technology remains the cleanest, safest and in the long term the cheapest technology," the PCE found.

It recommended the Minister of Energy expedites the finalisation of the IRP 2018 during the current financial year to "restore public confidence and promote policy certainty" in the energy sector. It also called for the IRP to be reviewed every two years, and recommended that any future IRPS should be flexible enough to respond to changes in future demand, technologies and innovation, including exploring the feasibility of "new and agile approaches to energy provision" in a rapidly changing energy environment.

"[T]he IRP should make it explicit that both coal and nuclear will remain important elements of South Africa’s energy mix," it said.

The Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa commended the PCE for its "visionary fact-based approach" in response to the draft IRP.

"The express endorsement of nuclear is no small feat. We call upon our leaders to do what is best for SA," the organisation said via Twitter.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News