SA weighs plan to enrich uranium

South Africa, which has backed Iran’s right to enrich uranium, says it is contemplating processing its own uranium to boost power generation and envisages building up to six new nuclear reactors.

But Minerals and Energy Affiars Minister Buyelwa Sonjica said in a speech at the weekend that any enrichment of uranium by South Africa would be pursued within international obligations.

South Africa has said it hopes to grow its economy by around 6% in the future and would need new energy capacity to fuel the expansion of the continent’s biggest economy.

“I therefore believe that time has come for South Africa to conduct a cost benefit analysis into the beneficiation [processing] of uranium. I will soon be making certain announcements in this regard,” Sonjica said in the speech.

South Africa abandoned its nuclear arms programme before the end of apartheid in 1994. But it opposes forcing nations to abandon uranium enrichment, saying this could hurt its potential commercial activities to supply the nuclear power industry.

“The expansion of peaceful uses of nuclear energy worldwide is looking more and more irreversible,” Sonjica said.

“Clearly there is potential in this country and in this continent for us to look at ways of increasing the role nuclear technology plays in our economies.”

Speaking at the launch of the 200-strong South African Young Nuclear Professionals, Sonjica said nuclear technology could increase at least 5 000 megawatts of nuclear energy to the country’s power output by 2030.

Sonjica said the proposed plan would require building of four to six new nuclear reactors, and that the country had enough uranium reserves to fuel such a nuclear energy programme.

She cited the growth of nuclear energy in India, China and Russia.

South Africa produces nuclear electricity from its Koeberg power plant in the Western Cape province, which accounts for 6% of its electricity generation.

Koeberg, Africa’s only nuclear-fired facility, imports all its fuel requirements, a spokesperson said.
Its two nuclear reactors each generate about 900 megawatts of electricity.

South Africa, which has a seat on the International Atomic Energy Agency, has said it supports Iran’s right to develop peaceful nuclear technology under the terms of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Iran denies United States accusations that it wants to use its nuclear facilities to make bombs and says its atomic ambitions are limited to generating electricity. - Reuters

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