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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

SA's next nuclear power plant to come on stream by 2019


January 13, 2009

By Agnieszka Flak

Johannesburg - South Africa expects its next nuclear power plant to come on stream by 2019, two years later than initially planned by Eskom, which has dropped plans to build the facility due to financial woes.

While Eskom was hoping nuclear energy would supply one quarter or 20 000 megawatts of South Africa's expanded generating capacity by 2025, the government says a target of 6 000MW in the same period is more feasible.

South Africa will have to keep reverting to more coal to supply its growing demand in the meantime.

Nelisiwe Magubane, the deputy director-general at the minerals and energy department, said: "We appreciate what Eskom had as a plan, but we need to be practical and see what can be done in that time: 6 000MW seems much more feasible."

South Africa's power utility operates Africa's sole nuclear power plant, Koeberg, with a total capacity of 1 800MW. Magubane added that an additional 3 200MW of the planned 6 000MW was due in 2019.

The government, which took over after Eskom bowed out, said that the two-year delay was needed to properly initiate the process.

Some experts said the government could have helped Eskom raise funding for the nuclear project through debt guarantees.

But Magubane said the government wanted to launch a process that differed from the utility's one-time proposal to ensure it could build up the fleet over time.

South Africa would approach various countries that have made nuclear part of their energy mix to copy their models. These countries include France, Britain, the US, South Korea and Russia.

Nuclear is a major part of South Africa's energy diversification plan to cut its reliance on coal, which now supplies the lion's share of electricity.

Magubane said the government would revise its nuclear plans, taking into account the economic slowdown.

"In the next 20 years we need to decommission quite a number of coal-fired power plants, so we need to have a plan on what it would be that would replace that ageing fleet," she said. "So it's not a question of whether we can afford it or not ... It's a fact that we will be needing that."

But the cost, coupled with the long lead time of between seven and 10 years to build a new nuclear plant, means South Africa will have to pump up its coal production in the meantime, even though that will harm the country's ambition of drastically reducing its carbon footprint.

South Africa's progress on renewable energy has also been slow, hindered by financial constraints, as well as the limited amount of energy that they produce.

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