SOUTH AFRICA – National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) has invited comment on government’s plans to add 2,500MW in nuclear power to South Africa’s electricity mix by 2030.

Currently, Africa’s only nuclear station, Koeberg, which has been running since 1984, delivers only 1,940MW – around 3.6% of South Africa’s electricity output and the government wants to increase nuclear to represent 5.6% of power production.

South Africa’s nuclear ambitions have been hugely controversial, with former president Jacob Zuma negotiating a suspect deal with Russia in 2014 to build new reactors but this fell through, and now, thanks to its sheer political weight, China seems to be a serious contender for the job.

Both France and South Korea have, at various points, been in the running too.

At least one American company, NuScale, apparently wants to bid – and it has already lined up billions in funding from the US government.

Last month, the US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) announced it had signed a letter of intent to support NuScale “to develop 2,500 MW of nuclear energy in South Africa”. 

NuScale has cited Cape Town as a purely theoretical customer for a 12-module version of its nuclear energy system, saying that such an installation could desalinate enough water to keep the entire city going.

In a consultation paper, which was gazetted on Monday, Nersa outlined government’s plans, including that the department of mineral resources and energy will be responsible for commissioning the new nuclear plant or plants.

Eskom will generate the nuclear power, perhaps in partnership with another organisation. Eskom or a new entity that will be created by its unbundling will buy the electricity.

Government plans to unbundle Eskom into three state-owned entities – generation, transmission and distribution.

Nersa asked stakeholders to comment on a long list of potential issues with the planned nuclear programme, to assist it in making “a well-considered decision”.

For instance, it wants comment on the feasibility of a partnership between Eskom and a private company “in view of Eskom’s current balance sheet”, and what the risks would be to electricity customers of such an arrangement.

Nersa also wants input on what the most cost-effective model of plant construction would be to avoid excessive cost overruns and asks whether Eskom should be involved in the actual construction at all.

It noted that the construction of the disastrous Medupi and Kusile power stations which ran massively over budget, and still struggle with technical problems, were managed by Eskom.

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