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Eskom's role in nuclear plan reviewed

Jul 31 2015 11:14
Mpho Raborife, News24

Johannesburg - Cabinet ministers are reviewing their decision to grant Eskom the ownership and operational rights of the proposed nuclear build programme, said the energy department's Deputy Director General Zizamele Mbambo.

Mbambo, addressing a  seminar on South Africa’s nuclear build programme at the Wits Business School on Thursday night, told the audience that the parastatal's current challenges had led the cabinet to reconsider a decision they had made in 2012.

"This decision now is under review because Eskom is quite busy. [It is] involved with new builds for the coal power plant - the Medupi project [and the] Khusile project. So with that, we've got to look into the capacity of Eskom to also undertake this massive programme.

"Given that situation and [its] financial constraints, government has now taken a decision to review the State-Owned Entities in terms of their mandate, to [decide] which of the entities would adequately undertake this massive programme for government."

Mbambo said it was important to note that although Eskom had been granted the ownership and operational rights, all government SOEs in the nuclear sector would still be involved in the programme "one way or the other".

Mbambo also emphasised South Africa's readiness to roll out the programme. He said the country had decades of experience in the sector meaning it was more than ready to manage and run the programme.

"South Africa is one of the most experienced nuclear countries, we have operated nuclear technology for 50 years. On March 18, South Africa celebrated the Safari-1 Research Reactor in Pelindaba which has been operating safely for the past 50 years.

'Nuclear is safe'

"In terms of experience on the nuclear power side, we have more than 30 years experience operating the Koeberg Nuclear Power plant safely and it is one of the most efficient power plants within the Eskom fleet. It is the most profitable."

The objective of setting up such a massive nuclear programme in the country was to ensure that the country would be able to be self-sufficient in the electricity industry.

"So South Africans can be assured that nuclear is safe. It provides base load electricity [that is] cheap and affordable ... and it also helps South Africa to reduce its carbon footprint," he said.

South Africa is currently engaging in talks with China, France, Russia, the United States and the Republic of South Korea who are all bidding for the programme.

Mbambo said the programme was a long-term one, and that 80 independent experts had been appointed to engage the five countries' proposals to ensure that government made the right decision.

"A nuclear programme is a long-term investment which will be with us for at least 100 years... Government is steadily progressing towards taking a final decision on [it]."

In order to ensure that South Africa benefited fully from the programme, the skills linked to it would have to be localised, Mbambo said.

"When South Africa goes and procures, we are not procuring just a power plant only. We are procuring a capability to develop our own industry so that we become self-sufficient [so that] we are able to do all the aspects of the nuclear value chain."

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