Energy minister backs nuclear power

Developing nuclear power stations carries “tremendous benefits” for South Africa, Energy Minister Dipuo Peters has said.

Opening debate in the National Assembly on her department’s R6.6 billion budget for this year, she told MPs many of the country’s older coal-fired power plants would be retired and “fall away around 2023”.

Nuclear-generated power was the best replacement to guarantee the country could meet its base load demand.

“Replacement is critical if we are to ensure our energy security. Nuclear power carries tremendous benefits for South Africa in terms of the lowest clean base load levelised cost,” Peters said.

It also broadened the energy mix, was aligned with the country’s beneficiation strategies, contributed towards industrialisation and localisation, and was central to mitigation of CO2 emissions.

“Most importantly, it will leapfrog South Africa into the knowledge economy, as well as massive industrial development,” she said.

DA MP Jacques Smalle said South Africa did not need new nuclear power plants to complement its energy mix.

“In fact, the programme could cost the taxpayer up to R1 trillion,” he told the House.

A project of such magnitude was “completely unaffordable”.

“We are certain that the corruption involved with such a nuclear build would dwarf the arms deal,” Smalle said.

Instead of building new nuclear power plants, South Africa should increase its natural gas footprint.

“We must be more proactive in negotiating access to gas deposits in Mozambique and Tanzania,” he said.

Independent Democrats (ID) MP Lance Greyling spoke out against an expensive programme to build more nuclear power plants.

“The ID will not allow this minister to lock South Africa into a costly nuclear programme without first ascertaining whether we can truly afford it and whether the long-term demand projections really require it. The fight … has just begun,” he warned.

Earlier, Peters said the national nuclear energy executive coordinating committee had been established to “lead, monitor and ensure oversight of the implementation” of the country’s nuclear policy.

Eskom had been designated as the “owner and operator” of nuclear plants in South Africa.

Further, an amount of R710 million had been allocated to the department, the Nuclear Energy Corporation of SA and the National Nuclear Regulator to examine, among other things, the development of nuclear energy.

Peters said there was a need a to “demystify” nuclear energy.

“The department will continue to work towards the roll-out of the nuclear programme, including reaching a final investment decision towards the procurement of nuclear power plants,” she said.

That decision is expected later this year.

Nuclear plants are expensive to build, but generally cheaper to run than their coal-fired cousins. They also emit no greenhouse gasses.

Government sees nuclear-generated power as an integral part of the national energy mix. Its new nuclear build programme, if it gets the go-ahead, will add an additional 9 600 megawatts to the national grid by 2023.

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