Minister ignores opposition calls to keep coal power plants

Energy Minister Dipuo Peters. (Gallo)

Energy Minister Dipuo Peters. (Gallo)

Developing nuclear power stations carries "tremendous benefits" for South Africa, Energy Minister Dipuo Peters has said on Tuesday.

Opening debate in the National Assembly on her department's R6.6-billion budget for this year, Peters told MPs that many of the country's older coal-fired power plants would be retired and "fall away around 2023".

Nuclear-generated power was the best replacement to guarantee the country could meet its base load demand, she added.

"Replacement is critical if we are to ensure our energy security. Nuclear power carries tremendous benefits for South Africa, in terms of the lowest clean base load levelised [sic] cost," Peters said.

It also broadened the energy mix; was aligned with the country's beneficiation strategies; contributed towards industrialisation and localisation; and was central to mitigation of carbon dioxide emissions.

"Most importantly, it will leapfrog South Africa into the knowledge economy, as well as massive industrial development," she said.

Democratic Alliance MP Jacques Smalle said South Africa did not need new nuclear power plants to complement its energy mix.

"In fact, the programme could cost the taxpayer up to R1-trillion," he told the House.

A project of such magnitude was "completely unaffordable".

'Costly nuclear programme​'
"We are certain that the corruption [involved with] such a nuclear build would dwarf the arms deal," Smalle said.

Instead of building new nuclear power plants, South Africa should increase its natural gas footprint.

"We must be more pro-active in negotiating access to gas deposits in Mozambique and Tanzania," he said.

Independent Democrats MP Lance Greyling spoke out against an expensive programme to build more nuclear power plants.

"The Independent Democrats will not allow this minister to lock South Africa into a costly nuclear programme without first ascertaining whether we can truly afford it and whether the long-term demand projections really require it. The fight ... has just begun" he warned.

Earlier, Peters said the national nuclear energy executive coordinating committee had been established to "lead, monitor and ensure oversight of the implementation" of the country's nuclear policy.

Eskom had been designated as the "owner and operator" of nuclear plants in South Africa.

Further, an amount of R710-million had been allocated to the department, the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa, and the National Nuclear Regulator to examine, among other things, the development of nuclear energy.

'Demystify' nuclear energy
Peters said there was a need a to "demystify" nuclear energy.

"The department will continue to work towards the roll-out of the nuclear programme, including reaching a final investment decision towards the procurement of nuclear power plants," she said.

That decision is expected later this year.

Nuclear plants are expensive to build, but generally cheaper to run than their coal-fired cousins. They also emit no greenhouse gasses.

Government sees nuclear-generated power as an integral part of the national energy mix. Its new nuclear build programme, if it gets the go-ahead, will add an additional 9 600mw to the national grid by 2023. – Sapa



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