Energy regulator says SA needs nuclear to fill 'base-load gap' as Eskom starts move from coal

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Eskom's Koeberg nuclear power station outside Cape Town.
Eskom's Koeberg nuclear power station outside Cape Town.
Jay Caboz
  • The National Energy Regulator says SA needs more nuclear power to provide base-load capacity as the country starts to decommission old coal-fired power plants. 
  • The regulator has approved plan to add 2 500 MW of new nuclear power to the energy mix "around 2035".
  • Nersa says renewable energy cannot effectively "match base-load demand" as output varies throughout the year.


South Africa's energy regulator has said the country needs new nuclear power to supply users with base-load capacity as Eskom starts decommissioning its fleet of ageing coal-fired power stations. 

In August, the National Energy Regulator of SA approved a revived plan published by Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe to procure 2 500 MW in new generation capacity from nuclear power. The energy is expected to come online around 2035. 

A previous plan to procure 9 600 MW of nuclear power from a fleet of power stations was halted by a court ruling in 2017.

This week, Nersa published the reasons behind its decision to approve the 2 500MW of new nuclear power.   

The regulator said that SA will need to replace base-load supply currently provided by coal-fired power plants which generate around 80% of the country's daily electricity.   

"If South Africa is to realise its industrialisation goals envisaged in the National Development Plan 2030, reliable base-load supply will be an indispensable ingredient to drive the economy and to secure the country's competitiveness on a global scale."

Base-load supply is critical to SA's planned re-industrialisation, it said, which includes things like upping the country's steel production and boosting domestic vehicle production. 

"It is for this reason that base-load supply needs to be maintained on the grid to protect industrial sector jobs that make up at least 22.31% of the South African workforce."

Nersa said that, in its view, renewable energy could not effectively "match base-load demand" as output varies throughout the year.

A number of green advocacy and civil society groups are opposing the state's plan to build new nuclear power stations, arguing that long build times, increasing costs, the spectre of corruption, and environmental risks mean renewable energy is a better option. 

Liz McDaid, Parliamentary and energy adviser to the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA), previously told Fin24 that rather than spending a decade or more building a new nuclear power plant, South Africa should start building more solar and wind power plants now. 

"You will save more carbon than you would if you waited to build a nuclear power plant," she said. 

Costs 

The regular also said that, even when the high initial costs of construction are taken into account, nuclear energy is cost-effective. 

"The cost to produce electricity from nuclear energy is much lower than the cost to produce energy from gas and coal, unless those resources are located near the power plant they supply."

The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy has not yet issued a tender for the new nuclear power station, which is expected to cost hundreds of billions of rands. 

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