Nuclear chiefs regroup in SA as minister pledges fresh start

Cape Town – Nuclear energy executives and advisers have regrouped to discuss the way forward after a court case cancelled the start of the 9.6 GW new build procurement programme last month.

The meeting occurred a day before Energy Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi’s budget speech, where she officially restarted the nuclear process, saying: “We will proceed with the signing of the new intergovernmental agreements with the five countries and submit to Parliament within reasonable time”.    

Leaders from Eskom to Necsa and from Rosatom and EDF spent Thursday at the African Utility Week in Cape Town updating colleagues on the future of nuclear energy in South Africa.

Listed below are quotes from the top seven nuclear leaders at the conference:

1. State-owned nuclear company Necsa CEO Phumzile Tshelane:

“We will have impediments on our way to nuclear. We must be clear, we will not be successful immediately. Our success will be truncated and we will have to take detours, but it’s decades-long work that we are doing.”

2. Eskom chief nuclear officer Dave Nicholls:

“There has been no procurement process of nuclear. I have no knowledge of a secret plan,” he said. (The reason there is so much emotion is because) if Eskom succeeds and does it (nuclear) well, then there is no space for others to make their pound of flesh.”

3. EDF (French power utility) project director in SA Olivier Bard:

“We were a little bit disappointed not to submit our (request for information) response (for the nuclear procurement deal). We put genuine effort into it. We thought it was a good opportunity to discuss the matter. The current situation makes it difficult to discuss, which doesn’t make it very helpful. We understand the next move will be when the SA government comes to discuss a new IGA (intergovernmental agreement). We will have the support of the French government, which we have always had.

“It is all for the good that the highest attention is paid to designing the process to improve compliance. We have always wanted that. Nuclear has to be that way because it is very centralised and not scattered – this helps transparency. It involves much higher value benefits like jobs, local investors and skills development. Ambition in nuclear is high and the commitment is high. It requires a lot of motivation and collective engagement.

“I often hear arguments against nuclear. The issue is that our society wants renewables and decentralised renewables. What can be a part of the mix given to reach the optimum of energy security and to achieve industry goals while reducing CO2. Nuclear power has a contribution in that. You can use renewables as much as you like, but nuclear has a benefit.”

4. Rosatom vice president of sub-Saharan Africa Victor Polikarpov:

“The electricity situation in Africa is appalling,” said Polikarpov, who has lived in Africa for 20 years. “Over 620 million people in Africa don’t have access to electricity. Africa is changing a lot and its population will double in 30 years’ time to over two billion people. How can you empower these people; are they destined to live in poverty forever, or can they breakout and industrialise?

“Nuclear is increasingly being sought after in Africa. If you compare nuclear with all generation options, nuclear ticks all the boxes. It’s a long-term investment into the future.

“A major challenge is convincing governments that nuclear is viable. There is a controversy between politicians and technicians. In Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania and Kenya, technicians are convinced and supportive of nuclear; their task is to convince politicians.”

5. Necsa chairperson Kelvin Kemm:

“It is not true that Eskom was in charge on nuclear. In 2008, Eskom was involved in nuclear procurement, but government took the procurement back to Department of Energy (after they pulled the plug on the programme). Then Necsa was made the soul procurement agent because a department can’t be a procuring agent.

“The minister (Tina Joemat-Pettersson) told us that Necsa was still the sole procurer. She recommended that Necsa go into partnership with Eskom. We agreed with Eskom to have a 50/50 partnership. The collaboration with Eskom has been superb – we are in this together. Eskom did not hijacked nuclear. There are no secret plans.”

6. North West University programme manager of Nuclear Engineering Anthonie Cilliers:

“The models (of the Integrated Resources Plan, which creates policy on energy development) don’t seem to match reality. A practical invalidation of a model is Germany’s 60GW of renewable energy (which has seen costs rise). Nuclear is the only answer in a mix that is proven to reduce CO2 emissions.”

7. Nuclear association Niasa MD Knox Msebenzi:

“There is a tug of war nationally between forces,” he said. “People argue that their technology is the only one that is possible. Energy sector players should come together and chart a way forward: we should invite policy makers and provide consensus. My wish is that we get some leadership to bring the forces together.”

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