South Africa aims high

14 August 2007

South Africa has unveiled an ambitious strategy that could see it develop the full scope of nuclear power technology - including the full nuclear fuel cycle and the ability to design and manufacture advanced nuclear energy systems.

A policy framework, which has been released for public comment, explains
that nuclear energy is seen as essential for South Africa's development. Expanding the country's nuclear sector would provide energy security, economic development and thousands of high-tech jobs while satisfying climate change concerns, according to authors the Department of Minerals and Energy (DME).

Currently South Africa has two pressurized water reactors, operated by state utility Eskom to provide about 6% of electricity. Almost all the rest comes from coal-fired stations.

It also has the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa (Necsa) which conducts nuclear research and development, and PBMR Pty, the company developing the advanced Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) for future deployment.

In addition to substantially bolstering the above organisations, the 'Nuclear Energy Strategic Framework' would see a 'National Nuclear Energy Executive Coordination Committee' created to implement and oversee government policies; a single agency formed around the existing National Nuclear Regulator to establish and enforce nuclear regulations and best practice; and a 'National Nuclear Architectural Capability' which would include "the ability to design, manufacture, market, commercialise, sell and export nuclear energy systems." Knowledge transfer during future reactor purchases was noted to be important to developing this.

The framework calls for investigation into entering all aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle in addition to uranium mining currently underway. Reprocessing would be considered for the longer term, while in the short term overseas facilities would be used to reprocess and recycle used nuclear fuel.

Security of nuclear fuel supply would be a main concern, and further uranium mining would be encouraged under the caveat that production could be availed for domestic use. Job creation from uranium mining is "conservatively expected to create and sustain at least 10,000 additional jobs in the next decade."

The document suggests that funding for nuclear safety and security agencies could come from levies on uranium mining or electricity consumption. Capital incentives could pay for technology demonstration, while an equity mix based on ownership could support the National Nuclear Architectural Capability.

Plans are already afoot in the country to deploy around 12 more power reactors of around 1000 MWe, and to build 20-30 of the 165 MWe PBMR units following the successful operation of a demonstration unit. That level of deployment would provide 30% of South Africa's electricity.

Further information

Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa (Necsa)

Department of Minerals and Energy (DME)
DME: Nuclear Energy Policy and Strategy for The Republic of South Africa

WNA's Nuclear Power in South Africa information paper

WNN: 30% nuclear for South Africa