South Africa keen on nuclear expansion despite Japan


South Africa is unlikely to stop its proposed nuclear expansion after Japan’s crisis but is weighing its options more carefully because of it, said a senior government official.

Africa’s biggest economy has said it would like nuclear power to supply 14 percent of the country’s energy mix by 2030. It wants to halve its reliance on coal and faces fast-rising demand from an economy that is the world’s top producer of platinum and a major supplier of gold.

South Africa is also keen to avert a repeat of a power crisis which shut the mining industry for days in 2008 and cost the country billions of dollars in lost output, Reuters reports.
“You don’t stop the nuclear programme, but you just look at the implementation aspect more carefully. Some of the issues relate to technology choice,” said Ompi Aphane, deputy director general at the Department of Energy.
“One would need to consider all the options,” he said.

South Africa operates the continent’s sole nuclear plant, near Cape Town, and plans to build six 1,600 MW plants by 2030, although the plans may be revised as it finalises an energy plan which could be law by early April.

The country used to be one of the pioneers in developing a fourth-generation nuclear power plant based on pebble-fuel technology, but shelved the programme last year because of public concerns about spending on unproven technology.

Analysts have said the pebble-bed option is one the state and industry should reconsider on safety and other grounds.
“The reactor would not need any external cooling. It would cool itself. It’s walk-away safe,” said Kelvin Kemm, a Pretoria-based nuclear physicist.

But he said the programme may need to be industry-led, after South Africa invested nearly 10 billion rand in developing it over a decade before putting it on ice as it lacked a clear business case.
“There is lots of merit for the technology, specifically for building power plants away from places where you could potentially have tsunamis,” said Cornelis van der Waal, an analyst at consultancy Frost & Sullivan.

Pebble-bed reactors are modular in nature and as they do not need a lot of water can be built away from coastal areas.

Some 95 percent of South Africa’s electricity is based on coal, a fossil fuel the country has in abundance, but the country is keen to reduce its carbon emissions because of concerns about climate change.