South Africa set to begin process to procure nuclear energy

South Africa will soon begin the procurement process for about 2 500MW of nuclear energy.

Minister in the Presidency responsible for electricity, Dr Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, announced this during a media briefing on Tuesday.

Ramokgopa said the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy had to satisfy a raft of rigorous National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) suspensive conditions, which take into account various factors before the go-ahead could be issued.

“The department submitted a report to the regulator addressing suspensive conditions in July of 2023,” said Ramokgopa.

“Nersa still had an obligation to satisfy itself if the response from the department to the suspensive conditions are sufficient for Nersa to consider giving this process the greenlight.

“I am happy to indicate that … Nersa considered the department’s submission … and concluded that the suspensive conditions had been satisfactorily addressed.

“We are triggering now … essentially a procurement process. We are going out to ensure that we are able to get that additional 2 500MW of nuclear capacity to ensure that we are able to meet issues of national security and energy sovereignty.”

During the briefing, the department said it was looking to release requests for proposals for nuclear by March 2024.

Significant milestone

Ramokgopa said the move was a significant milestone because historically “the process was mired in controversy”.

“We are happy that we’ve been able to iron out the issues related to how the procurement process needs to unfold.

“We have met the regulatory requirements as per … the legal requirement and now we have the concurrence of Nersa, we are able to proceed.

“This is profound and what it does is to cement our unassailable position as a country, as a leader on the continent in relation to nuclear generation capacity and also the skills profile that we have,” he said.

The ministerial determination and Nersa’s concurrence is expected to be gazetted soon.

Ramokgopa assured that while government continues to build towards energy security in the future, energy continues to be poured into addressing the immediate challenge of loadshedding.

“Nuclear gives us a significant and important platform to be able to ensure that we are able to secure an energy future for ourselves, energy sovereignty for ourselves.

“Of course, we continue to make every effort to address loadshedding because the benefit of what we are announcing, you are not going to see it tomorrow, in a year’s time, you won’t see it in two years’ time … [in] three to four years, that’s when you’ll begin to see the benefits.

“But in the meantime, it’s important that we address the challenges with regards to the immediate problem of loadshedding, whilst we secure the energy future.

“We don’t [want to] run into the same problem again in the future and nuclear has proven to be a reliable source of energy.”

South Africa currently has one nuclear power station, Koeberg, in the Western Cape. The station has two units that produce 980MW, according to the minister.

During the briefing, Ramokgopa highlighted that Eskom’s current power station fleet is ageing – meaning that South Africa will have to generate additional sources of energy.

In this regard, he alluded to the IRP 2019’s call for the commencement of “preparations for a nuclear build programme … at a pace and scale that the country can afford”, in anticipation of the need to supplement future energy demand when power stations reach their end of life.

Nuclear energy forms part of the IRP 2019’s future envisaged energy mix for South Africa.

“Part of the reason we are here with regards to the energy crisis is that generation can’t meet demand and therefore we need to have additional generation capacity to help us to ensure that we are able to secure the country’s future.”

Nuclear power station is 40 years old

According to the department’s website, South Africa only generates about 6% of its electricity from nuclear energy generated at the Koeberg power station.

The minister emphasised that the power station has been in operation for about 40 years, “incident free”.

“Now we are in the period of extension of life of Koeberg. We want to secure another 20 years of life of Koeberg.

“Unit 1 had gone out to meet the regulatory requirements for purposes of meeting the conditions for extension of life. After a significant amount of delays of about four months, now unit 1 is running on full load.

“Yesterday [Monday], we then removed unit 2 for purposes of meeting those regulatory requirements and we are expecting that by August 2024, unit 2 should come back.” –

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