SA's Nuclear Energy Plans Gather Momentum

South African economy embraced technology at a faster rate than any other African country resulting in the establishment of a very robust, multi-diversified industry. But their greatest milestone today is seen in their ambition to lead Africa in Nuclear Energy production, a dream now at an advanced stage.

While our own Minister of Energy, Samuel Undege is good at nothing except playing hogwash games in which he once blamed lack of rains as main cause for power cuts, other innovative Ministers like SA’s Tina Joemat-Pettersson are not giving excuses to the nation but continue to be trailblazers in revolutionizing their industries.

By Cisco Eng. Shingie Lev Muringi 

Mzansi’s nuclear plan is gaining ground. The nuclear new build programme will be spearheaded by a joint procurement team consisting of Eskom and South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa). This automatically means that Zimbabwe is by far legging behind in the development of our energy sector as we shall continue to depend on those technologically ahead of us to supplement the little energy we are producing in the meantime.  

Due to South Africa’s healthy multilateral relations with first world countries leading in Nuclear Power such as Russia, China and the USA, this ambitious move is likely to yield results sooner than expected. Nuclear Energy is the reason behind the intact sustainability of all those first world country economies due to its superior advantages.    

Eskom will be the owner operator and procurer for nuclear power plants, while Necsa will be owner operator and procurer for nuclear fuel cycle and multi-purpose reactors. This decision was taken at a Cabinet meeting held last week, ending weeks of speculation on the matter.

Necsa chairperson Kelvin Kemm said Cabinet’s confirmation means that Eskom and Necsa will be working together in the procurement of the major new nuclear power fleet.

“The control of the development and supply of nuclear fuel is an incredibly important factor in delivering low cost nuclear power,” he said. “Currently an imported fuel element costs about R40 million and a reactor typically uses more than 150 such elements per reload. So we are talking of a major Necsa project.”

Necsa is delegated responsibility to develop a value chain capability and associated infrastructure for uranium beneficiation, uranium conversion, enrichment and the development of high tech fabrication plants, to support the existing nuclear reactors and also the new fleet of nuclear power plants.

It will also lead the procurement of a new 20MW Multi-Purpose Reactor aimed at the commercial production of a number of value-add nuclear consumer products.

“Necsa is fully cognisant of the responsibilities and aspirations it will carry for the country and for the nuclear industry worldwide,” said Necsa CEO Phumzile Tshelane.

“This obligation will be delivered with due diligence and transparency, in line with developing South African nuclear technology to contribute to the economy, and to localisation in the Nuclear New Build programme, leading to employment opportunities and enhanced industrial skills.”

Necsa is the owner and operator of the SAFARI-1 20MW nuclear reactor near Pretoria which has operated for 51 years. SAFARI-1 is recognised as the world’s most effectively utilised reactor in its class.

It is used mainly for research and development purposes and also for the production of medical isotopes which are sold to over 60 countries globally. This places South Africa in the position of the world’s second largest market shareholder in nuclear medicine supplies.

Tasking Eskom with the build programme was in accordance with the Nuclear Energy Policy of 2008.

Cabinet amended its decision of June 10 2015 to designate the Necsa as the implementing agent for the nuclear new build programme. At the time this decision allowed Eskom to focus on the Medupi, Kusile and Ingula projects and the energy challenges the country was experiencing.

According to the statement by Cabinet, Eskom has more than 30 years of experience in the safe operation of the Koeberg nuclear power plant, Africa’s only nuclear power plant, and has been developing the environmental impact assessment and nuclear site safety reports for possible nuclear power plants since 2007.

The Department of Energy will continue to act on its mandate as the policy setting and coordinating department of the nuclear build programme.

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