Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Bold state bid to put SA back on nuclear map

Bold state bid to put SA back on nuclear map
Hilary Joffe

THE government yesterday launched its draft policy on nuclear energy, which seeks to create a new industry around nuclear power generation to take advantage of SA’s rich uranium deposits, develop technology and create tens of thousands of jobs.

The mineral and energy affairs department unveiled plans to promote the recycling of spent nuclear fuel as well as to rebuild SA’s uranium enrichment capacity, which was originally developed for nuclear weapons but was voluntarily dismantled before 1994. Now, enrichment would be for peaceful purposes only, with the aim of producing nuclear fuel for SA’s own new nuclear reactors and for the international market.

The plans are set out in a draft nuclear energy policy and strategy that the department unveiled yesterday, after the cabinet approved it for public comment last week.

The department hopes to finalise the policy before the end of this year. It follows President Thabo Mbeki’s commitment in his state of the nation address in February to accelerate work that would pave the way for SA to increase its reliance on nuclear and renewable energy.

The department’s chief director for nuclear energy, Tseliso Maqubela, said yesterday the nuclear policy aimed to ensure SA diversified its energy sources away from coal, addressing security of supply and global climate change concerns. “There is no way we can have a primary energy source such as uranium which we don’t use fully,” he said.

Maqubela said it was envisaged that nuclear power would account for more than 15% of SA’s total power generation capacity by 2025- 30, more than double the current 6%.

Eskom CE Jacob Maroga said last month the utility’s aspiration was that half of the 40000MW it planned to add to its generating capacity over the next 20 years would come from nuclear, in line with its aim of cutting its dependence on coal to less than 70% by 2025, from the present 88%.

Eskom is due to detail plans for its new conventional nuclear power stations in March . Maqubela said it was looking at 4000MW of nuclear power in the first phase of the building programme and the figure would be increased from there.

The government is also looking to the experimental pebble bed technology to generate nuclear power in future years and has been working to bring international partners into the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) project. Department director-general Sandile Nogxina said yesterday, however, the government would go ahead with the PBMR even if it did not get international partners .

But it would look for foreign partners who could come in on building the infrastructure for recycling spent fuel. SA does not have that infrastructure . Nogxina said that in the long term, the government wanted SA to be able to compete globally in the whole nuclear value chain, including the recycling of uranium.

The draft policy document proposes to recapitalise the Nuclear Energy Corporation of SA (Necsa, formerly the Atomic Energy Corporation) to co-ordinate investment in nuclear research and development and innovation. There will be a single national nuclear safety regulator, in the National Nuclear Regulator. But the document also proposes the creation of several new institutions, including a new national nuclear security agency, a national radioactive waste management agency and a national nuclear architectural capability. The policy makes Eskom the only generator of nuclear power, though Maqubela said the door was not closed for private sector participation, though this would have to be in partnership with Eskom.

On the mining side, Maqubela said the government would look to provide incentives to encourage the mining and beneficiation of uranium locally.

Nogxina also said the cabinet’s approval last week of the Energy Master Plan did not imply that only Transnet could build a new fuel pipeline from Durban to Gauteng. P rivate sector consortium IPayipi has also applied to the National Energy Regulator to build the pipeline. Transnet’s application still had to go through the regulatory process. The cabinet’s endorsement in no way excluded participation of the private sector, he said.


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