Government delays nuclear plant plans as economy stagnates

South Africa delayed plans to build new nuclear power plants over concern about their cost and the waning demand for additional electricity as economic growth stalls.

Under a new timeline, the first nuclear power is expected to come on stream in 2037, with a total 20 385 megawatts of nuclear energy added to the national grid by 2050, according to the “base case” scenario outlined in a presentation about the department of energy’s updated Integrated Resources Plan. The proposal, released in Cape Town on Tuesday, also estimates as additional 37 400 MW of power from wind, 17 600 MW from solar plants, 35 292 MW from gas and 15 000 MW from coal by 2050.

The government previously said it wanted to generate 9 600 MW of energy from as many as eight reactors that should begin operating from 2023 and be completed by 2029. Price estimates had ranged from $37-billion to $100-billion. Although President Jacob Zuma has championed the nuclear programme, the treasury has cautioned that the country may be unable to afford new reactors at a time when the economy is barely growing and the budget deficit needs to be curbed to fend off a junk credit rating.

“Gas and renewables [will] form the biggest chunk of installed capacity by 2050,” the department of energy said in the presentation. “There is significant reduction in installed capacity from coal.”

The department, which has invited public comment on the proposals, also outlines two alternative scenarios that make different assumptions about costs, carbon emissions and the nation’s ability to generate additional renewable energy. One envisions 25 821 MW of nuclear power added to the grid between 2026 and 2049, and the other sees the production of 5 436 MW of new atomic power coming on line starting in 2037.

Power cuts
The energy plan will be refined in March next year and then submitted to Cabinet for final sign-off.

Eskom, the state-owned utility, has said it could use the more than R150-billion it will accumulate in reserves within 10 years to build new reactors. The utility operates Africa’s only nuclear power plant — the 1 800 MW Koeberg facility near Cape Town, which began operating in 1984.

Rosatom, Areva SA, EDF SA, Toshiba’s Westinghouse Electric unit, China Guangdong Nuclear Power Holding Corp and Korea Electric Power Corp previously expressed interest in building new reactors in South Africa.

South Africa experienced power cuts for about 100 days last year, as demand exceeded supply. Energy shortages eased as new generating capacity was bought on line, maintenance backlogs were addressed and a stagnating economy curbed power demand. – Bloomberg

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