South Africa budgets for nuclear

23 July 2014

South Africa has confirmed its commitment to nuclear power, allocating ZAR850 million ($81 million) – over 10% of its energy ministry's budget – to research and development. This is in addition to the government's continued support for the procurement of 9600 MWe of nuclear power, energy minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson said during her budget speech on 21 July.

Joemat-Patterson said that the ZAR850 million would be used to fund further research and development especially with regard to safety. Hazardous materials handling regulations, nuclear policy development and nuclear energy legislation would also be pursued by the department and its relevant agencies.

In June, President Jacob Zuma's State of the Nation address cited energy shortages as a main cause of the country's slow economic growth and called for a "radical transformation" of the energy sector to develop a sustainable energy mix including coal, solar, wind, hydro, gas and nuclear.

Speaking to World Nuclear News, the managing director of the Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa (NIASA) Knox Msebenzi reaffirmed the South African nuclear industry's commitment to helping new build to happen. Given that South Africa is not a nuclear vendor country, Msebenzi noted that while the financing model for a new build program would be entirely in government hands, any new build would be expected to involve technology transfer from vendors. "In NIASA's view, the most likely funding outcome will involve the vendors partnering with financial institutions subject to an agreed tariff trajectory", he said.

South Africa's Integrated Electricity Resource Plan (IRP), drawn up in 2010, sets out the country's plans for the period to 2030 and envisages 9600 MWe of new nuclear capacity in addition to the existing 1830 MWe of nuclear capacity at Koeberg. The plan came into effect in 2011, and an updated version following its first two-yearly review is expected to be finalised later this year.

Joemat-Patterson reiterated her determination to see nuclear capacity increase.

"I intend to focus on and accelerate all the outstanding matters that will lead to the commencement of the nuclear build program as envisaged in the IRP," she said, describing the nuclear expansion project as a central feature in an energy policy that brought with it "the possibility of catapulting South Africa into the top echelons of the knowledge economy."

The nuclear allocation comes out of a total energy appropriation of ZAR7.4 billion ($700 million), 14% up from 2013-2014's appropriation. According to Joemat-Patterson, the increase is to allow for the expansion of programs to increase the number of households connected to the grid as well as non-grid electrification programs. Indeed, over half of the total appropriation - ZAR4.1 billion ($390 million) - is earmarked for the Integrated National Electrification Program, with a further ZAR96 million ($9 million) allocated to non-grid electrification.

A further budget speech by deputy energy minister Thembisile Majola gave more details of how the allocation could support a new build program by providing an improved and strengthened regulatory regime. The National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) is already in discussions on the establishment of a Nuclear and Radiation Safety Centre of Expertise to create a "pipeline of skills" that fosters collaboration with international partners and local stakeholders.

Prior to the IRP, a lack of finance effectively put paid to state utility Eskom's plans for new build based on Areva's EPR and Westinghouse's AP1000 in 2008. After signing a bilateral cooperation agreement in 2013, Russian president Vladimir Putin implied that Russia would be able to assist with credit to support a South African project. More recently, the so-called BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) nations launched a new development bank to provide an alternative to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund for the financing of large-scale joint development programs.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News