South Africa doubles down on nuclear power

 ·7 Jul 2024

Energy and electricity minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa says work is at an advanced stage to procure 2,500 MW of nuclear energy.

Speaking with the Sunday Times, Ramokgopa said that the nuclear plan aims to secure approval from the Treasury to build a 2,500MW power plant next month, with the team working on the deal finalising the procurement structure.

Ramokgopa said that internal conversations related to what type of nuclear technology should be considered, with the late technology seen as very rapid to deploy, relatively cheap and more efficient.

There are also considerations over who will operate the plant, but Ramokgopa said that Eskom will likely run the plan given its experience with Koeberg near Cape Town.

The minister said the department will have more information on the proposal by the end of August.

Ramokgopa initially revealed the intention to launch the procurement process in December 2023.

The determination was first signed off by the now unbundled Department of Mineral Resources and Energy and concurred with by Nersa in 2021. However, after Ramokgopa received new powers following an exchange between the relevant ministries, another layer of approvals was required.

South Africa has not experienced load shedding for the last 100 days, a feat last achieved in 2021.

This is good news as building a new nuclear power plant will not go online in the near term.

The process of building a new nuclear power station takes roughly eight to ten years to build.

Koeberg is the only nuclear power station in South Africa and produces 1,860MW when fully operational.

However, the station is undergoing life-extension maintenance, with unit 2 offline until later this year. The maintenance has been anything but smooth sailing for Eskom, with several delays at both units.

Once complete, Koeberg should be able to run for 20 more years.

In the highly-contended draft IRP, the DRME did not list any additional nuclear energy contributions through the end of its first ‘horizon’ of 2030.

A mix of new generation sources is listed in the 2030-2050 horizon, including nuclear.

The future build pathway that welcomes nuclear includes a 2,500MW build in 2031-2035, additional nuclear procurement of 1,925MW to the end of 2040, and a giant 10,075MW by the end of 2050.

Although nuclear power concerns many in the country over potential safety risks, especially following the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine, nuclear energy has resulted in substantially fewer deaths than coal-powered energy.

For instance, according to a report from the Health Effects Institute and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, 25,800 people died due to air pollution in 2019 in South Africa alone.

The worst areas for air pollution in South Africa are found to the east of Johannesburg, where Eskom’s coal-fired power stations are located, as well as plants owned by petrochemical firm Sasol and steelmaker ArcelorMittal SA.

In addition, nuclear power could be helpful for South Africa’s transition to renewable energies.

A key reason for the decrease in load shedding is the household and business solar boom in 2023, with over 5,000 MW of solar added in the country in a few months.

However, a major problem with solar energy is that it can’t be harnessed at night or in cloudy conditions, meaning that a base supply, such as wind or nuclear energy, is essential.

Read: Foreigners are flocking to retire in South Africa – here’s why and where they’re coming from

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