Nuclear partner details awaited

DoE gives update on SA nuclear plan….

russian nuclearThe Department of Energy (DoE) says it is the sole procurer in any nuclear programme and that “vendor parades” had been conducted with eights countries, the results to be announced before the end of 2015. To give cost details, they said, would “undermine the bidding process”.

The situation regarding South Africa’s current intended nuclear energy programme was explained during a parliamentary meeting of the Portfolio Committee on Energy, DoE confirming that a stage had been reached where nuclear vendors had been approached and DoE staff were being trained in Russia and China.

Eskom not involved

Neither DoE, nor the Minister of Energy, Tina Joemat-Pettersson, who was also present would givetina-joematt cost estimates nor speak to the subject of financing other than the fact the minister admitted that the idea of Eskom being involved in the building programme in the style of Medupi and Kusile was a non-starter.

At the same time Minister Joemat-Pettersson announced that a new Bill, the Energy Regulator Amendment Bill, was to be tabled that would give Eskom the right to appeal against tariffs set by the National Energy Regulator (NERSA). This followed upon the news that Eskom would be given powers to procure, which must lead to the assumption, said opposition MPs later, that Eskom will recoup costs of financing through electricity tariffs.

The Minister said the renewable IPP programme involving the private sector had included multinationals and had been “hailed as a success” and the deal that would be struck with nuclear vendors would be on best price in terms of the end price for the consumer. Any bidding would be conducted in the “style of the IPP process”, which included support of the process of black procurement and skills training.

Contribution to grid still “theoretical”

modern nuclear 2Deputy Director, Nuclear, DoE, Zizamele Mbambo, explained to opposition members that whilst government had in principle decided to include nuclear energy in the energy mix for the future, DoE itself was still only at the stage of establishing all costs involved to the point of actual connection of a theorised figure of nearly 10GW to the national grid. To disclose costs at this stage would undermine the bidding process, he said.

The main purpose of the costing exercise still remained the final cost the consumer, he said, in terms of the NDP Plan 2030, a phased decision-making approach over a period of assessment having been endorsed by the Cabinet in 2012. The whole exercise of deciding what the costs would be was therefore relevant to how much coal sourced power would contribute to the baseload of the energy mix by 2030.

Deal or no deal

Zizamele Mbambo confirmed that in 2013, DoE had been designated as the sole procurer of the nuclearsmall nuclear reactor build programme and “vendor parades” had been conducted with Russia, China, France, China, USA, South Korea, Japan and Canada. The strategic partner to conduct the next stage, the New Build Programme itself, would be announced before the end of 2015, Mbambo said, by which time costs would have been established and treasury consulted.

At this stage no deal had been struck, he confirmed.

As distinct from the actual vendors per se, and any deals, Mbambo said that international agreements had been struck with interested counties on the exchange of nuclear knowledge, training and procurement generally.

DoE trainees already in China

chinese sa flags“Fifty trainees already employed in South Africa’s nuclear industry had already gone to China for ‘phase one’ training with openings for a further 250 to follow”, he said, noting that the Russian Federation had offered five masters degrees in nuclear technology.

The New Build nuclear programme was at present based on providing eventually 10GW of power to the grid but DoE confirmed that the indirect effect on the economy from “low cost, reliable baseload electricity is logically positive but difficult to assess”.

Zizamele Mbambo showed a graph of the possible integration of energy from coal, nuclear, hydro (imported), gas and renewables over a period, stating that nuclear was clean, reliable and would ensure security of supply with “dispatchable power.”

Opposition Members complained that the process seemed likely to make the price of electricity unaffordable to the poor and have a major impact on the cost of doing business in South Africa.

Nuclear vs. coal

Mbambo was at pains to explain that in the long term, the cost of nuclear energy was considerably lessgrids than coal and this was the reason that, for future generations, South Africa had to embark on a course that not only lead to cleaner but cheaper energy.

As a final issue, DDG Mbambo touched upon the question of approval by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and explained that any relationship with this UN body was on the basis of a peer review.

This covered nineteen issues from nuclear safety management to radioactive waste disposal and was not an audit, he explained, South Africa already having been an experienced nation in nuclear matters from medical isotopes to nuclear weapons. It was pointed out to members that that IAEA merely carried out reviews and made input.

Up to speed or not

IAEAIt was during the response to the budget vote speech on the subject of the IAEA, that Opposition Shadow Energy Minister, Gordon Mackay said that the agency had found South Africa deficient in more than 40% of its assessment criteria.   In response, DDG Mbambo did not refer to the current state of the country’s nuclear readiness at any point but confirmed there was a great need for training and this was now the emphasis.

He said the relationship with the IAEA was in three phases covering purchasing, construction and operations and although it was thirty years since South Africa had a nuclear building programme at Koeberg, the current contribution to nuclear technology was recognised.    The programme now was to create a younger generation of nuclear experts, the main issue being to build technology capacity and train trainers in the state nuclear sector.

Reactor numbers

Mbambo concluded his presentation by stating that DoE was in discussion with treasury specifically on this issue of funding training, Minister Joemat-Pettersson adding that some six to eight reactors were planned  but a this was very early, the weight that “price” would carry in determining a strategic partner was not decided.

Other articles in this category or as background
Nuclear goes ahead: maybe “strategic partner” – ParlyReportSA
National nuclear control centre now in place – ParlyReportSA
Energy plan assumptions on nuclear build out in New Year – ParlyReport

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