SA looks to nuclear power

2 May 2007

The South African government is looking to increase its reliance on nuclear power generation as a means of ensuring energy security, diversifying the country’s current energy supply and reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.

Addressing the Nuclear Energy and Uranium Renaissance Conference in Johannesburg in February, Minerals and Energy Minister Buyelwa Sonjica said there was a need to develop advanced, efficient, non-polluting, cost-effective energy technologies, especially for use in developing countries.

“You are all aware that currently the South African electricity generation is dependent on coal. The over-reliance on coal will need to be reduced, particularly as investment is being made into new national electricity generation capacity,” Sonjica said.

South Africa is to spend R97-billion to increase the capacity of its electricity grid over the next five years.

In February, the government backed state-owned power utility Eskom in its plans to build a second nuclear power station in the southern part of the country, to contribute upwards of 1 000 megawatts of base-load power.

The country is also busy experimenting with the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor concept, with a demonstration reactor set to be operational outside Cape Town by 2010.

To prepare for an expanded nuclear programme, the Department of Minerals and Energy is putting together a strategy that will outline the future of nuclear energy in South Africa, while also ensuring investment in uranium beneficiation, given the presence of the mineral in the country.

“[The] government is strongly encouraging the beneficiation of our minerals resources,” Sonjica said. “It goes without saying that beneficiation of uranium comes with its own responsibilities and sensitivities, and we should pursue this beneficiation within our national and international obligations.”

‘Shift in mindset’
According to Sonjica, developing a nuclear industry of such magnitude requires a shift in mindset from all role players in the local industry. South Africa would have to invest in nuclear research and development – currently being undertaken by the Nuclear Energy Corporation of SA (Necsa), as well as in manufacturing capacity.

She said, however, that current rates of skills development were not sufficient, and that the government had to look into other methods, such as twinning local talent with international experts, to accelerate skills development.

The department has since introduced initiatives such as the South African Young Nuclear Professionals Society and Women in Nuclear South Africa to promote the industry among previously disadvantaged people.

Necsa chief executive Rob Adam told Engineering News that the corporation had been given R10-million a year for the next three years to establish a National Nuclear Manufacturing Centre.

The centre will incorporate Necsa’s existing facilities at the Pelindaba complex outside Pretoria, including Fabritek (the manufacturing component of the old Atomic Energy Corporation), an existing design centre, and Necsa’s current fuel manufacturing activities at the Safari-1 research reactor.

“What we have discovered is that South African companies are finding it hard to manufacture to nuclear specifications, and we fear that, when the building of new nuclear power stations starts, local companies will find it difficult to respond and money that we had hoped would be spent in South Africa will have to be spent abroad,” Adam told Engineering News.

“This centre would both do its own manufacturing and help other South African companies to meet the required standards and be able to manufacture for nuclear.”

Sonjica also called on the National Nuclear Regulator to strengthen its capacity to evaluate different technologies, adding that the state would also have to improve its system for ensuring compliance with its non-proliferation obligations.

“Nuclear safety is going to be paramount in the pursuit of our objectives,” she said. reporter

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