Studies begin in South Africa

31 May 2007

South Africa's state-owned Eskom is beginning to investigate expanding its nuclear capacity. Information on an environmental impact assessment (EIA) has been published, with an invitation for the public to participate in consultation on a new 4000 MWe plant.

Koeberg, near Cape Town, is South Africa's only nuclear power plant at present, with two pressurized water reactors (PWRs) that together generate 1842 MWe - about 6% of total supply.

The EIA and associated public invitation is the first step in Eskom's plan to investigate expanding nuclear generation capacity by 20,000 MWe over the next 20 years. That would equate to around 30% of supply.

The EIA concerns a 4000 MWe nuclear power plant employing PWRs and occupying around 31 ha. It could be built at one of five coastal sites previously studied in the Northern, Eastern and Western Cape areas:
  • Thyspunt, near Cape St Francis.
  • Bantamsklip, 10 km southeast of Pearly Beach.
  • Duynefontein, next to Koeberg in the Western Cape.
  • Brazil, in the Northern Cape.
  • Skulpfontein, in the Northern Cape.
A background document notes that the carrying capacity of each site varies, according to sustainable development principles. The electricity transmission lines required by a new plant would be subject to a separate EIA.

The full EIA process, including the scoping activity, which begins now, includes five opportunities for public comment and an appeal period. Should the proposed project be authorised, the background document states, "it is estimated that the construction of the nuclear power station could commence in 2009-10 with the first unit being commissioned in 2016."

South Africa's electricity supply is under considerable strain. The country aims to double the size of its electricity grid by 2020 and is currently bringing electricity to 300,000 homes per year. It relies heavily on coal-fired power plants located near to coal reserves in the north of the country, far from demand which is centred in the southern cities of Cape Town and Durban. With demand growing faster than supply, the practice of 'load-shedding' is common, leading to rolling blackouts around Cape Town. The total shortfall of generation is about 4500 MWe.

Besides 20,000 MWe of nuclear capacity that could come in future from PWRs, South Africa is developing the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR). This smaller gas-cooled design would provide around 165 MWe per unit and could be build in 'packs' of up to eight. The South African government could authorise the construction of up to 24 of the units in addition to PWRs. Construction of a demonstration PBMR unit at Koeberg is scheduled to start in 2008 with operation in 2012.

Further information


WNA's Nuclear Power in South Africa information paper

WNN: South Africa to build second nuclear plant
WNN: 30% nuclear for South Africa