Eskom is looking at a fleet of nuclear plants with a generating capacity of 9,600MW as it says that experience over the past 40 years has shown that this reduces costs significantly.

This view is expressed in its request for information for its nuclear build programme issued on Tuesday with a closing date for submissions at 10am on April 28.

The document says that "government shall endeavour to implement a fleet approach to power reactor procurement which is needed to optimise the industrial process and ensure economies of scale.

"The experience gained from nuclear construction programmes in the past 40 years has shown that there appears to be significant cost and time reductions over the nuclear power plant construction costs over the construction of a fleet of standardised nuclear power plant units."

Eskom is also wanting to investigate having a larger number of units on one site to reduce capital and operating costs.

Nuclear Energy Corporation of SA (Necsa) CEO Phumzile Tshelane explained in a statement: "The basic idea of the ‘fleet approach’ for the 9,600MW of power is that as one reactor is being built, that the acquired technology skills are then seamlessly moved over to the next reactor. In this way we not only establish new technology foundations, but we also keep costs down by using a production line system."

The Necsa statement said the request for information requested countries that wished to submit bids to supply nuclear power station technology to SA to indicate they were intending to bid, by answering a number of questions. The questions relate to localisation of construction and fabrication technology, training schemes, intellectual property sharing and exposure, and a number of other issues which will form the basis of any large-scale mutually beneficial construction programme.

It added that the request for information would be followed by two rounds of request for proposals during which time the proposals as to the exact layout and format of the new nuclear power plants will be refined. Time frames for construction, and nature and method of construction, will also be agreed between the parties.

In the request for information Eskom states its intention to create a full scope nuclear programme which it says will require SA to have a long-term partner. It envisages the creation of a fully fledged local nuclear industry and thus highlights the need for technology transfer in any partnership so that SA can build its own capacity.

"In order to implement a sustainable nuclear programme and obtain all the potential economic benefits, SA will endeavour to implement or obtain interests in the complete nuclear fuel cycle," the request for information document states.

The document says Eskom is looking at the construction of pressurised water reactors with the codes and standards of the vendor country being adopted. The request is for information relating to the works, goods and services required for the programme as well as financing options including financial support and guarantees.

Interested parties will have to submit their confirmation of their intent to submit a response by January 31 while the closing dates for queries and clarifications is April 17. The request for information also extends to the mandate and procurement of the Nuclear Energy Corporation of SA (Necsa), which is responsible for research and development.

In his letter of invitation, Eskom’s chief nuclear officer David Nicholls stresses that the exercise is an information gathering and market testing one only and is not a competitive tender. The information provided will not, he says, be used as a basis for awarding a contract or tender though will assist in drawing up the tender.

The request for information was issued on the basis of a determination issued on December 14 by Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson designating Eskom as the procurer of the nuclear programme. It says that it will be engaging with the relevant national authorities to obtain the required authorisations. Necsa will follow a parallel approval process to get the legally required approvals so it can fulfil its mandate under the national nuclear build programme.

In a statement Necsa expressed "excitement" that the nuclear request for information had been formally issued and the major initiative to build new nuclear plants was now under way.

"This is the first step leading to the appointment of one or more foreign specialist suppliers who will work with the South African team in the construction of the new fleet of nuclear power stations," Necsa chairman Kelvin Kemm said. The new nuclear power output will total 9,600MW when complete.

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