Mystery surrounds the cost of SA's nuclear programme

Durban - South Africa is intent on forging ahead with the nuclear build programme, which will see the capital investment in as many as nine nuclear power stations, but the state won’t say how much it will cost.

The detailed budget breakdown, the funding model itself and even all of the research framework and expert analysis leading up to this point in fact, is still not for public consumption and remains shrouded by mystery.

At a press conference set in the plush groves of the Zimbali Lodge in Ballito, Deputy Director General of Nuclear Energy Zizamele Mbambo kept his cards close to his chest.

Mbambo said that 23%, or 9600 MW, of the country’s power would come from nuclear reactors by 2030. This would form part of the government's electricity plan, which has a mixed energy agenda.

This plan, as it is currently envisaged, will see the construction of as many as nine nuclear power plants by that year, with the first estimate to come online and start contributing to the grid in 2023.

Sites for these plants had been provisionally identified by the state, and could be situated in the Eastern, Western and Northern Cape, as well as in KZN.

Mbambo made reference extensively to the Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review report, which made recommendations to the state as how to proceed with the “purchasing, constructing, and operating nuclear power plants” as governed by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

While listing the recommendations made by the mission and the progress the state had made in addressing them, Mbambo said that inter-governmental agreements had been signed with several vendor nations including France, Russia, China, South Korea and the United States of America, which would see hundreds of energy professionals and students alike trained in nuclear technology - all before the operating partnership had been established.

The bidding process for the lucrative deal, which could rank in the trillions of rands, is set to begin this month.

Mbambo reiterated that the bidding process would be transparent and competitive, and would be run within the prescripts of South African law.

He said the finance model, the capital outlay expected to be needed in the construction phases and all of the research and review framework could not yet be made public.

“All of this information is still subject to internal processes and it cannot be made public. This would not make strategic sense as the bidding and negotiations have not begun and it would be premature to do it now,” he said.

“We do know that this is an affordable and sustainable programme and it is something that is worth investing for the good of the country. This will create thousands of jobs and catapult the economy forward with cheap and reliable base-load power,” he said. 

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