Government in R1 trillion Nuclear Strategy

The government is forging ahead with plans to spend as much as R1 trillion on new nuclear plants, ignoring objections from environmental activists, opposition parties, unions and even its own advisers.

Bids would be sought from the US, China, France, Russia and South Korea to add 9 600 megawatts of atomic power to the national grid to address energy shortages in Africa’s second-largest economy, President Jacob Zuma said in his annual State of the Nation address on Thursday. The first output was targeted for 2023, he said.

“We know exactly what we need,” Zuma said on Friday. “We are now well-informed. We are moving ahead.”

South Africa is turning to nuclear energy as an ageing fleet of coal-fired plants operated by state utility Eskom, the supplier of 95 percent of South Africa’s electricity, are unable to keep pace with the power demand. Rolling blackouts this month have curbed output at mines and factories and prompted a sell-off of the nation’s currency and bonds.

The rand reached a 13-year low against the dollar on Wednesday and foreigners dumped R6.9 billion of South Africa’s debt since February 3, when the outages began.

Detractors of the nuclear plan argue that the plants will be too costly, take too long to build and that the bidding process will be vulnerable to corruption. The National Development Plan, the government’s blueprint for growing the economy, recommended that alternatives be investigated, including the use of gas plants, which would be easier to finance and build.

More expensive

“Nuclear is not a wise choice for South Africa,” Anton Eberhard, a member of the National Planning Commission that advises on implementing the development plan and a professor at the University of Cape Town on February 11. “Nuclear energy will not enable us to resolve our immediate power crisis. It is more expensive than other energy options.”

A 20-year plan published by the energy minister in December 2013 said the decision on whether to build new nuclear plants could be delayed until at least 2025 to allow for a proper assessment of alternatives and likely power demand.

Areva, EDF, Toshiba’s Westinghouse, China Guangdong Nuclear Power, Rosatom and Korea Electric Power have expressed interest in building new plants in South Africa.

The DA said the nuclear bidding process had been clouded by secrecy and had the potential for corruption. The party called on Zuma to abandon it. The National Union of Mineworkers, an ally of the ruling ANC, said nuclear power was not a priority and more focus should be placed on completing two new coal-fired power stations that were running behind schedule.

Greenpeace, an environmental activist group, staged a protest against nuclear energy at an industry meeting in Cape Town on Thursday.


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