Gwede Mantashe. Picture: GCIS
Gwede Mantashe. Picture: GCIS

SA should start planning for additional nuclear capacity if it is  to ensure reliable electricity supply, mineral resources and energy minister Gwede Mantashe said Thursday.

The nuclear issue has polarised the country and the ruling ANC. During former president Jacob Zuma’s tenure, the push to build a second nuclear power station at an estimated cost of R1-trillion, was criticised as unaffordable. Recently, Zuma told Business Day that SA would have a much more reliable power supply had the country built nuclear reactors.

As we have stated on numerous occasions, the country would acquire nuclear at a price, pace and scale it can afford.

In 2017, the High Court in Cape Town put the brakes on SA’s nuclear ambition, ruling that the procurement processes was unlawful, following a legal challenge by environmental activists. The court instructed government to start the process afresh. However, there are currently no new procurement plans for nuclear-powered reactors.

Many observers say SA has no need for nuclear and the country cannot afford it amid a growing budget deficit.

Delivering his budget vote speech in Parliament on Thursday, Mantashe said it is crucial for SA to plan for additional nuclear capacity beyond 2045.

“As we transition to a diversified, cleaner energy future, in line with the NDP [National Development Plan], the country would acquire nuclear at a price, pace and scale that it can afford,” Mantashe said during the budget vote debate on the department energy.

Mantashe said given the long-term planning horizon for nuclear power plants, it is imperative that the planning work for the new nuclear power plants should commence now to ensure energy security for the country.

“As we have stated on numerous occasions, the country would acquire nuclear at a price, pace and scale it can afford,” the minister said.

He said Koeberg, the nuclear power plant in the Western Cape, will also reach the end of its designed life by 2024. It is now embarking on the life extension project to extend the plant’s life by another 20 years, to around 2045. The plant is Africa’s only nuclear station.

Mantashe said Koeberg demonstrates the benefits of nuclear power and gave  SA a reason to continue with the nuclear expansion programme.

He said the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), the government’s long-term energy plan which is yet to come into force, would be gazetted by September 2019. The plan considers a diversified energy mix that includes all forms of energy technologies such as cleaner coal, nuclear, gas, hydro, renewables and battery storage, said Mantashe. However, it envisages an overall reduction in coal-generated energy by 2030.

“As a country, we must avoid the currently polarised debate on energy, pitted as coal versus renewables. The debate should be about the effective use of all the energy sources at our disposal, to achieve security of supply,” the minister said.

On the controversial Grand Inga project, Mantashe said: “SA has entered into a legally binding treaty with the Democratic Republic of Congo. We play a vital role in ensuring that investment into the development of the project is realised, as we have guaranteed power offtake for the first phase. After phase one SA  will have a right of first refusal on equity and power offtake for any of the subsequent phases.”

The department of energy has been allocated a budget of R7.44bn of which about 91% of the total budget will be transferred to entities. 

DA MP and mineral resources & energy spokesman Kevin Mileham said blame for SA’s electricity crisis “needs to be laid squarely at the feet of our government”.

Eskom plans to decommission six of its older, coal-fired plants in the next seven years. But, according to Mileham there are no clear plans to replace them, and the utility has admitted it no longer has the capacity to plan or build new generation.

“Independent power producers are unable to proceed with their investments, because the minister and deputy minister believe that renewable energy is making Eskom unprofitable," said Mileham.

"But what the minister and deputy minister ignore, is that in Bid Window 4 of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers (REIPP) programme, the cost of electricity from these suppliers dropped to well below Eskom’s selling price, and indications are that it will drop even lower in future bid windows... What that means is that, going forward, new renewable energy can and will be purchased for considerably less than what Eskom charges.”