Eskom continues with front-end nuclear preparation

(iStock)
(iStock)

Cape Town - Eskom is continuing with front-end planning for a nuclear build programme, Loyiso Tyabashe, senior manager of nuclear new build at Eskom, said at African Utility Week on Thursday.

During a discussion on nuclear energy, Professor Anton Eberhard of the University of Cape Town asked Tyabashe why Eskom was still focusing on nuclear development when it did not seem to be on President Cyril Ramaphosa's radar.

Tyabashe responded that, although the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) was being reviewed with the aim of being finalised in August this year, Eskom remained the designated owner and operator of any nuclear development.

"Those responsibilities mean we have to get ready for nuclear. We cannot just wait and see if nuclear is part of the reviewed IRP or not," explained Tyabashe.

"We always follow policy and cannot just be driven by media reports. The IRP talks to social development and nuclear provides that. The current IRP has nuclear in it. Until nuclear is not part of the plan, we must continue with front-end planning."

He said good and bad lessons were learnt from the construction of Medupi and Kusile. The good lessons include the economic development the construction brought to the surrounding areas.

That is why Eskom would like to bring the same positive socio-economic aspects to nuclear build.

"South Africans are very skilled so we should not over-rely on overseas people," said Tyabashe.

A bad lesson from the Medupi and Kusile construction, in his view, was the strike action that cost the programme "billions of rand". This is, therefore, an issue that would need to be managed in nuclear build.

"I know it is a sensitive matter with unions being politically aligned and it involves real bread and butter issues on the ground," said Tyabashe.

Rob Jeffrey, an economist at Econometrix, said nuclear offered South Africa a low-cost, clean and reliable energy solution. In his view, nuclear energy would allow the country to achieve long-term, high and sustainable growth.

"South Africa needs to prioritise economic growth by reindustrialising and revitalising mining. You cannot do this without secure electricity supply. South Africa is still an industrialising emerging market," he said.

"No doubt we have to clean fossil fuels, but we cannot build the economy just on renewables. South Africa does not have time to spare. Decisions for sustainable economic growth must be taken now, and for that, secure electricity supply is needed."

At the opening of African Utility Week on Tuesday, Energy Minister Jeff Radebe said the South African energy sector must maintain a balancing act in terms of demand and securing energy supply, especially as the country’s economy is on a steady upward trajectory.

Radebe also said SA’s economy had stagnated. If it is to grow and attract significant infrastructure investments, it needs to have policy certainty – especially on energy policy, Radebe argued.

He told reporters in Parliament on Wednesday that nuclear energy remained a part of SA’s energy mix, but that the extent to which government invests in energy would be determined through policy.

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