Companies keen to build SA nukes

2012-04-26 22:12

Johannesburg - Energy companies from around the world are lining up to be involved is SA's plans to increase its nuclear reactor capacity.

The project has an estimated cost of R300bn, Energy Minister Dipuo Peters said, but it is still unclear what contracts will be offered or how much of the business will be set aside for local companies.

The two-reactor Koeberg facility near Cape Town is the only nuclear power plant in Africa, that has been operating since 1984. It is committed to building at least six more reactors at three or four sites by 2030 as part of a plan to decrease its dependence on electricity plants that run on greenhouse gas-emitting coal.

Escom now depends on the coal plants for at least 90% of its energy needs, is a major supplier to the neighbouring countries.

An energy crisis in 2008 blamed on poor planning led to frequent and widespread blackouts that hit output in mining and other key industries. The government fears energy supplies will be tight for the next few years, hobbling its efforts to expand the economy and create jobs in a country where a quarter of the work force is unemployed.

South Africa wants to build local skills and local business as it expands its nuclear capacity, Peters said.

"It is not just about building power plants, but how we build them," she said at a nuclear seminar organised by a labour group. "We are not about to turn South Africans into mixers of concrete."

Peters presented the plans for the reactors, along with those for wind and solar plants, just days after a quake and tsunami hit Japan in March 2011, sending three reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant into meltdown there.

Germany permanently shut down one of its ageing reactors because of what happened at Fukushima. But Peters said she was confident the new nuclear technology South Africa planned to import was safe. No serious incidents have been reported at Koeberg during its 28 years in operation.


The nuclear programme, though, has had setbacks, including a failed effort with America's Westinghouse to develop next-generation reactors. The multibillion rand  project missed several deadlines before it was abandoned, and prospects for customers were uncertain.

South Africa is not alone in forging ahead with nuclear projects following Fukushima. Turkey went ahead with plans to build its first nuclear power plant after Fukushima. And even as Japanese engineers were fighting to cool reactors, officials from Russia and Belarus were signing a deal for a $9.4bn nuclear plant in Belarus.

South Africa is "one of several significant prospects on the radar," said Ian Hore-Lacy, spokesperson for the London-based World Nuclear Association, which represents the industry.

American and French companies involved in building Koeberg may have an advantage when it comes to involvement in South Africa's nuclear build-up because of their long-standing relationships, Hore-Lacy said in a telephone interview. But he said Russian, Chinese and other companies can't be discounted in the race for nuclear business here.

Russia's State Atomic Energy Corporation, known as Rosatom, has been among the most active in seeking South African business. Rosatom held a seminar in Johannesburg in early April to introduce itself to the South African government and business officials, and sent a vice president back later in April for more talks.

Alexey Kalinin, head of Rosatom's foreign operations, said his company would get as much as 60% of supplies for projects in South Africa from South African companies. He said that could mean more than $15bn in earnings for South African companies, $3.4bn in tax revenues for the South African government, and 15 000 new jobs.

He also said Rosatom was ready to draw South African companies into its global supply chain.

Rosatom's Kalinin said his company was looking ahead to helping Nigeria develop a nuclear industry, and already was involved in uranium exploration and mining in Tanzania and Namibia.

South Africa "can be indeed regarded as a possible gateway to other African countries and a driver of nuclear energy development in the region," Kalinin said.

Next big chance

Such expansion is just what Yves Marignac, a Paris-based energy expert and anti-nuclear campaigner, fears. He would rather see developing countries taking the lead in exploiting safe, clean renewable energy sources like wind and solar. Local officials say renewables alone can't deliver enough energy.

Marignac, speaking in a telephone interview, also said he is concerned the nuclear energy industry may be pushing new markets to sign contracts before all the questions raised by the Japanese crisis are answered, and those answers turned into safer - and likely more expensive - technology.

"South Africa is probably one of the next big chances for the nuclear companies trying to sell reactors in the world," said Marignac, who sees a race between "the ability of the companies to acquire new contracts... and the ability of the international community to develop new standards."

Peters, said she won't be rushed, and that safety is a top priority.

She also said South Africa is interested not just in building new reactors, but in developing an entire cycle, from mining more of its uranium resources to nuclear waste management. That presents a range of opportunities for foreign companies, as well as the possibility of South Africa one day exporting its own nuclear know-how.

Peters has faced challenges from South Africa's powerful labour movement, concerned she is not choosing the energy options that will create the most jobs, and from a nascent South African anti-nuclear movement.

"We as South Africa are convinced that we need an energy mix," Peters said. "We cannot discard any technology."

  • Johann - 2012-04-26 22:59

    Because they know how easily bribery and corruption is pulled off.

  • Michele - 2012-04-26 23:12

    20 years ago we would not have needed outside companies, we could have done this ourselves. Since the clowns of the ANC took over and we lost our best engineers and scientists to world competitors we can't even blow our noses anymore without " outside assistance "

      Nico - 2012-04-27 08:18

      Michele, get your facts right, we've never had the capability to built a nuclear power station, koeberg was built by a French company.

      Malcolm - 2012-04-27 09:38

      Koeberg was built in 1984, by American and French Companies. It seems like you need some outside assistance to overcome your negativity.

      bluzulu - 2012-04-27 12:08


      Michele - 2012-04-27 12:47

      Doesn't look like simple arithmetic is a strong point on these pages, my statement said 20 years ago and nowhere did I mention Koeberg ? FYI Koeberg was indeed built by the U.S and the French, it was started in seventy six and completed by eighty four, it is also the only nuclear power station in Africa. Before you comment learn to count Nico. Malcolm it's time you faced reality mate.

      Kellan - 2012-04-27 13:17

      20 years ago was 1992. Mandela was free, ANC, Inkatha and NP were at each others throats, educated people were leaving in their thousands and the world waited with baited breath to see whether or not the entire nation would go up in smoke. But no, we capable of doing things ourself. How's that for arithmetic? AND even SA's 6 Nuclear warheads (disarmed by '92) were done with the help of Israel..

      ludlowdj - 2012-04-30 13:09

      Although in reality I don't believe anyone would want those that were lucky enough to find success overseas to come back under the present government or conditions anyway. The truth is we must kill the c_ANC_er that is slowly killing this country.

  • Fanta - 2012-04-27 00:16

    Mmmm, I smell another \Arms-deal\ in the making. The Gravy Train needs expanding...

  • Nikki Bodenstein - 2012-04-27 00:56

    Ja well, if everyone actually paid for their electricity, we wouldn't have this problem.

  • Eric - 2012-04-27 01:15

    I don't care who builds the nuclear stations! Just build them!

  • Gerald Jordaan - 2012-04-27 06:51

    And so the corruption begins.... BRIBES..BRIBES & MORE BRIBES!!

  • marc1o1 - 2012-04-27 07:11

    Don't you see, this is another e-toll disaster waiting to happen? Where we bring outside companies to buy into our infrastructure then demand an obscene amount of money. I fear this could be even worse, where they will control our electricity eventually.

  • David Ntlatlane - 2012-04-27 08:12

    i've been following this story closely and i think this is good move by the government not only to solve the energy crisis but also to create a vast no of jobs and rid this shocking unemployment& poverty stats however it needs v.good management because honestly i agree with Marignac this foreign companies are simply looking for new and big contracts such as this and will not necessarily prioritize the country's needs.

      dave.prinsloo - 2012-04-27 08:36

      there is nothing good about this move. R300bn won't buy much jobs if it's nuclear, nuclear power plants have been abandoned by the rest of the world in favour of safer cheaper methods that create more jobs and advance technology. This is 20th century idiocy embraced by the guptas and zumas.

      bluzulu - 2012-04-27 12:09

      Every business in the world is working for a profit, Nuclear is a good option,

  • Nico - 2012-04-27 08:20

    Koeberg was built by the French and it is working perfectly, please do not get a Russian company....

      Rob - 2012-04-27 09:34

      The French I believe are the leaders, building for the uK too. As for the will be best to move far away from the site!

      ftjsmit - 2012-04-29 20:09

      The Russians build Chernobyl!

  • dave.prinsloo - 2012-04-27 08:29

    OH MY EFFING GOD!!!! Here comes another arms deal, another scamral.\r\nPump 300billion into renewables you confounded idiots. Those nukes will be catastrophic, because we know so much is going to be syphened off that there won't be enough to build and maintain it. Cadmium delivery by unionised contractors on pothole-riddled roads will cause the nukes to blow up in these idiots' faces

      dave.prinsloo - 2012-04-27 08:31

      and that's no joke

  • bfvillet - 2012-04-27 09:22

    goodness the plan is to build power stations and create jobs why is it that as soon as government announces the building of any kind of infra structure most people jump to the conclusion that there is going to be corruption.Lets rather comment on its viability and sustainability this type of over reaction many times just points to our own racism lets get over ourselves and rather commit to building the country and protecting our freedoms

      Lacrimose - 2012-04-27 09:52

      18 yrs of history indicate that this will be the case e.g. Gauteng toll-road started at R6 billion, jumped to R14 billion, then R17 billion and is now at R20 billion

  • erneyb - 2012-04-27 10:49

    When reading this article, the first thing that shot through my mind is that some politicians, bureaucrats and their BMW/Merc-driving buddies are already planning how to syphon off some of the cream for themselves from this proposed lucrative nuke project. Then I asked myself but why am I so sceptical, synical, judgemental and negative in my thinking ? They answer came straight to me in that I cannot think of any major (never mind minor) national projects that haven't been tainted by corruption, nepotism and blatant fraud. (Arms deal, rental of buildings for the civil service, etc. etc. etc. etc. I do not think I'm the only South African that have this negative thinking when it comes to government projects. If there is anybody out there that can give us an example or two of a government project that was delivered within budget, within time and where self-enrichment and backhand payments was not exposed, please let me know as I want to believe that the government can deliver something to the people without it been tainted.

  • Phillys - 2012-04-27 10:56

    i am sure the ANC with their glorious track record will be lining up all the potential suppliers and seeing which one will part with the biggest bribe. In fact, if they are so open and honest as they claim they are, why not have neutral "monitors" at ALL negotiations and copied on all correspondence to check that these scumbags are kept honest?

  • bluzulu - 2012-04-27 12:06

    ""An energy crisis in 2008 blamed on poor planning led to frequent and widespread blackouts that hit output in mining and other key industries"" Is this Media group allowed to make up nonsense as the quote above suggest, they are. The 2008 Power cuts were due to the lack of coal in RSA as the "Coal Merchants" sold it to Europe knowing RSA did not have enough for their own requirements. Another example of capitalism being victorious over Nationalism. Nuclear is good option just don't built it on the coastline as the Japanese did.

      Lacrimose - 2012-04-27 15:13

      @bluzulu - well you are partially correct. Eskom allowed their coal reserves to drop below minimum then the price shot up and they were caught with no coal and no cash. Also in 1998 Cabinet instructed Eskom *not* to proceed with the building of new power generation capacity even though the Minerals and Energy White Paper issued in 1998 warned government that due to growing demand, South Africa would run out of power by 2007/8 should steps not be taken soon to build new power stations. March 2006, former Public Enterprises Minister Alec Erwin denied there was a national power crisis and told a joint sitting of three parliamentary committees that "there is no national energy crisis". In August 2006, Erwin said: "we are confident of a reliable electricity supply in the future". And so parliament declined to make funds available to Eskom to build the power stations.

  • aiazmir - 2012-04-27 19:28

    All this effervescence about nuclear power plants is so unnecessary when an Italian scientist, Andrea Rossi, has invented a cold fusion plant that you can fit into a cupboard and will generate power at a miniscual cost to provide all you electricity requirements. Unfortunately Big Brother is discrediting his invention, like always. They would not want households to be independent of their energy systems, and be enerfy slaves for life. Wake up people.

  • Just_my_opinion - 2012-04-29 19:49

    Would you trust the Chinese to build a nuclear reactor?

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