Govt not seeking help from Russia to build new small nuclear power stations - Mantashe

(iStock)
(iStock)

Government has not been engaging with Russia on a plan included in its latest energy blueprint to build new small nuclear power stations, according to Mineral Resources and Energy minister Gwede Mantashe.

The minister on Friday briefed media on the final Integrated Resources Plan 2019, which was approved by Cabinet earlier in the week and gazetted on Friday.

The long-awaited plan is the overarching blueprint for SA's future electricity generation, and includes details on projected electricity demand, cost estimates, and from what sources power will be generated. 

The plan promotes a diversified energy mix for SA's future energy needs, with coal remaining the chief contributor of energy for the next decade. Other sources include renewables, gas, hydro and nuclear.

Mantashe told journalists on Friday said that nuclear power is globally accepted as a clean source of energy, and can contribute significantly to reducing emissions. Although the cost of commissioning and decommissioning a nuclear-power plant is expensive, plants deliver the "most reliable, efficient and cost-effective" electricity.

The IRP states that the deployment of additional capacity from nuclear technology should be done at a scale and pace that "flexibly responds to the economy and associated electricity demand."

Koeberg power station, outside Cape Town will reach the end of its life by 2024. And government is in talks with Eskom, which owns the power station, to extend its design life by 20 years.

The energy blueprint also makes provision for the development of small modular nuclear reactors, as these units are considered a more manageable investment that larger fleets.

Asked  on Friday if government had any suppliers in mind to build the small nuclear units, and if the country had reached out to Russia in particular for advice, Mantashe slammed the question as "cynical". 

In April 2017, a Western Cape High Court set aside the previous process South Africa had embarked on to secure a total of 9.6 GW of new nuclear energy. SA had signed cooperation agreements with Russia, the US and South Korea, but the court ruled that the agreements were unlawful,as  Fin24 previously reported.

Mantashe on Friday said government had not engaged with any interested parties yet.

"We are talking of acquiring nuclear at a pace and cost country can afford. The IRP was approved [by Cabinet] on Wednesday, we are gazetting it today. Only now are we going to start doing practical work on the provisions of the IRP," he said.

"We don't have Russia sitting somewhere doing designs for us. We are going to talking to as many people as possible," he added.

The IRP 2019 does not make provision for additional capacity for nuclear energy for the next decade, in part because of the long construction times for nuclear power stations.

"Due to the relative marginal cost of generation, in comparison to other options, no new capacity from nuclear comes through before 2030 but there is a scenario that builds new nuclear capacity post 2030," the document read. Government will plan to look into this for the energy mix beyond 2030.

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