Thyspunt primed for nuclear


Eskom is moving ahead with its plans for a new nuclear plant, despite the project being short on two important approvals – and despite very little government funding in place to back it, given that it could cost billions of rands.

Loyiso Tyabashe, the acting general manager of Eskom’s nuclear new build programme, said preparations were going ahead for the utility’s new power plant, near Thyspunt in the Eastern Cape, while it awaited the requisite approvals.

He was speaking at the Nuclear Africa 2017 conference, held in Centurion in Gauteng this week.

According to Eskom’s procurement timeline, proposed in a presentation by Dave Nicholls, the utility’s chief nuclear officer, the submission of bids should happen later this year, while the tender evaluation will go ahead later this year and go on until early 2018. Contract negotiations should take place in mid-2018, with the contract earmarked for a final signature in 2019.

All this is being proposed despite heavy criticism from communities living near the proposed Thyspunt site.

Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa and the National Nuclear Regulator have not given it the thumbs-up yet.

Thyspunt forms part of Kouga Local Municipality, and Tyabashe said the parastatal was engaging with the municipality about preparations for the site, which include efforts to clear surrounding bush.

He added that the Thyspunt power plant was expected to have an installed capacity of 4 000 megawatts.

Presenting Eskom’s proposed site development plans, Tyabashe said an estimated direct investment of between R20 billion and R30 billion was essential to ensure the timely construction and commissioning of the main power plant.

Construction would be divided between building the main nuclear power plant and developing the site.

A joint steering commitee, which includes the mayor of Kouga, has already been formed.

Its last meeting took place a fortnight ago in Jeffreys Bay. So far, the committee’s involvement has been limited to holding meetings, although Eskom’s Jongi Dyabaza has joined the committee as a stakeholder workgroup project coordinator.

In an interview with City Press, Tyabashe said should the Thyspunt site not receive approval, an alternative option would be Duynefontein, a coastal site near the Koeberg power station, located in the Western Cape.

During the Nuclear Africa conference, Sweden’s Agneta Rising, the director-general of the World Nuclear Association, said the fact that there were currently 60 new nuclear reactors being built in the world – the largest number in the past 25 years – indicated that there was support for nuclear power worldwide.

She added that nuclear power was the second-lowest energy source in terms of carbon emissions after hydropower.

“The world needs a society perspective on safety, not a nuclear perspective,” she said.

Rising was lambasted during a question-and-answer session, after being unable to provide figures to show how the cost of nuclear power compared with the cost of other power sources.

In his address to the audience, which included several foreign companies and government entities but no local private companies, Nicholls said one option that would be available to the power utility in future would entail “repowering the coal plants” when the life span of the current coal-powered stations came to an end.

“At some point when you are reaching the end of the life of the coal station, another option is to use the same site to build a new power station, a nuclear one,” he said, adding that the move would avoid numerous costs as the site would already be serviced and developed, and would not be a green site.

“An advantage of nuclear is that, because it uses little fuel in terms of cost tonnage, it is not cost-linked to where the fuel comes from,” said Nicholls.

He added: “One of the advantages of nuclear power stations everywhere lies in transporting fuel to the site. Koeberg uses 55 tons of fuel a year, whereas an equivalent coal station uses that amount in five minutes.”

Nicholls said Eskom’s new nuclear build programme would be based on its experience in the construction of Koeberg, commissioned in 1976 and completed in 1984, as well as previous negotiations with international nuclear vendors and lessons learnt from the Medupi, Kusile and Ingula projects.

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