SA warming to nuclear power as prepares request for proposals

THE South African government is warming to nuclear as a long-term solution to its power crisis, according to a report by News24.

In a parliamentary briefing earlier this week, a government official said a request for proposals would be issued by year-end. Government is swayed by increasing affordability  of modular nuclear technology, and by its energy procurement strategy which places the financing burden on the supplier.

Katse Maphoto, the Department of Energy’s chief director of Nuclear Safety and Technology was quoted by the publication as saying that a non-binding Request for Information (RFI) had yielded interesting results.

He said that “… preliminary findings of such an RFI evaluation really indicate that the capital costs, which are actually a concern in the main, are reasonably lower than we had expected.

“The study we had conducted in the past, which was around 2015, gave us overnight costs of around $5 000 per kilowatt of electricity.

“And we are seeing now with the technological advancements of small modular reactors and other conventional pressurised water reactors; these costs have been shown to be even lower than that in the recent RFI that we had conducted.”

News24 said his department was developing an optimal procurement framework. This would take into consideration Eskom’s unbundling plans, its balance sheet and the constraints of the national fiscus.

An “unconditional concurrence [with a draft ministerial nuclear determination] from the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa)” is imminent, Maphoto said. On the receipt of this, the department would be able to issue an RFP during its financial year.

However, the prospect of South Africa embracing nuclear power has its opponents, News24 said. It cited Francesca de Gasparis, executive director at the Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute as saying decisions motivated by politics would “… burden future generations with unnecessary and dangerous energy systems … and unaffordable price hikes from Eskom”.

Her organisation launched the successful court challenge against Government’s previous 9,600MW nuclear build programme. That Government initiative was considered a low point in the administration of former president Jacob Zuma.