/ 9 November 2010

Eskom: Decision on nuclear energy must happen soon

The government will have to make decisions "soon" if it is to meet its target of new nuclear power capacity by 2023, Eskom says.

The government will have to make key decisions “soon” if it is to meet its target of new nuclear power capacity by 2023, Eskom chief executive Brian Dames said on Tuesday.

Briefing journalists in Cape Town, he said South Africa’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) for electricity envisaged 9 000MW of nuclear in the power mix.

“It’s a long lead time,” he said. “If you want [new capacity] in 2023 we would need a decision soon in order to make that.”

Asked what this decision-making would involve, he said a nuclear plant needed a site, which required a significant amount of geotechnical studies.

“South Africa’s fortunate in that Eskom has done a lot of that work [in identifying sites] in the last 20-odd years,” he said.

It also required extensive environmental impact assessments, with public participation.

After that would come the selection of the technology, followed by detailed siting work, looking at how the project affected spatial development and communities in the area.

“So it’s quite an extensive planning process even before you start pouring concrete,” he said.

At the same time the nuclear regulator would have to license the design and construction of the plant.

Despite all these requirements, South Africa was at this stage still “okay” in terms of what the IRP was asking for.

“Eskom has made it always quite clear that the decision for the next power station beyond [coal-fired] Kusile needs to be made as soon as possible,” Dames said.

“And when you say as soon as possible, literally you’re really talking about not later than next year.”

Up to date
The decision would be that of the department of energy, which bore the responsibility of making sure the IRP was executed.

Dames said Eskom had not had discussions with any other country on how to take the nuclear programme forward since last it started and then stopped a procurement process.

“[But] we have certainly kept up to date what’s happening globally around nuclear and the developments thereof,” he said.

He said he was unable to give a number on how many nuclear plants there would be.

Eskom had “our own numbers” on dollars-per-kilowatt capital cost.

“But you only truly know once you contract and go through a procurement process,” he said.

The recently defunct pebble-bed modular reactor (PBMR) had never been part of Eskom’s expansion plan.

The utility included only proven technologies in its planning, and the PBMR had not been proven, Dames said.

South Africa’s nuclear programme was put on hold in 2008 after Eskom invited Westinghouse and Areva to submit bids for their flagship products.

Eskom and the government were taken aback by the cost of the bids, reportedly in the region of $9-billion. — Sapa