Eskom: 'How much for a dozen?'

31 January 2008

Twelve nuclear power reactors could be ordered at once by struggling South African generator Eskom. Today Areva and Westinghouse both submitted one proposal each for two or three reactors, and another for 12 or 17.


An Areva EPR unit (Image: Areva)

The first proposal is dubbed 'Nuclear 1' and covers one nuclear power plant to generate 3000-3500 MWe. Basically, that equates to two Areva EPR units, which generate 1600 MWe each; or three Westinghouse AP1000s at 1150 MWe each.


According to plans, the first new nuclear plants would be sited somewhere in the Western Cape region, far from coal supplies. 


The second and most exciting proposals are to come later this year. The two reactor vendors will each make a proposal to Eskom covering a potential fleet of new reactors to a total of 20,000 MWe. That works out to about 12 EPR units or 17 AP1000s.


The gradual addition of 20,000 MWe - or even 40,000 MWe - of nuclear capacity would completely revamp South Africa's current 36,000 MWe power system, which currently relies almost exclusively on coal sourced in the north of the country.


The EPR design is under construction in Finland and France, while China has ordered its first four and seven are proposed for the USA. Four AP1000s are set for construction in China, with 12 at varioius stages of planning in the USA.


Fleet thinking


The upcoming wave of nuclear power expansion will see reactor vendors like Areva and Westinghouse employ a small number of reactor designs, with each unit as close as possible to a global standard. This should maximise benefits from economies of scale, simplify maintenance and enable workers to transfer their skills and knowledge globally.


It is also increasingly likely that reactor vendors will team with makers of steam turbines and other large components so that a number of whole power plants could share the same essential features.


In part this philosophy is a reaction to the success of the French nuclear program, where Areva and its predecessors built 58 reactors of the same type (pressurized water reactors) based on just a few principle designs, albeit with some variations. All those units are operated by the national power supplier, Electricité de France (EdF).


The consortium Areva has prepared for this possible work includes EdF as well as the Bouyges construction group - also from France - and South African construction group Aveng. In addition, Areva holds a 51% stake in Lesedi, a local power plant services company. Westinghouse was yet to make an official announcement detailing its plans, but confirmed to World Nuclear News it had made a submission.


Eskom's shortages


Power shortages that have racked South Africa in recent days have eased somewhat. Supplier Eskom yesterday told its large industrial power users they could operate using up to 80% of normal power requirements on 30 January, and that this could rise to 90% by 1 February.


This would come as a relief after the emergency measures that came into force on 25 January requiring some miners in the to shut down operations almost entirely. First Uranium's Ezulwini gold and uranium mine was affected, and lost the opportunity to process about 2660 tonnes of ore. The company said it believed that production would be made up in future.


Despite an improvement in the situation, Eskom was still having to shed 4000 MWe in demand. It appealed to all homes and businesses to cut demand immediately by 10%.