Department of Mineral Resources gets SA's nuclear ball rolling


The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) on Sunday issued a Request for Information (RFI), to solidify its intention to launch its planned Nuclear New Build Power Procurement Programme.

The programme, which forms part of the country's 2019 Integrated Resource Plan, aims to include nuclear power into its energy mix and base load power.

The RFI seeks to have the market assess its nuclear power programme, namely the cost, possible ownership structures, cost recovery, and sustainability.

According to the RFI, South Africa intends to use conventional pressurised water reactor (PWR) and small modular reactor (SMR) technology, as well as develop the pebble bed modular reactor programme.

The DMRE said it expected both PWR and SMR to be under development for commercialisation in 2030. 

The official site for future nuclear plants needs to be confirmed. 

The initial preferred site for future nuclear plants was the Thyspunt site in Oyster Bay, Port Elizabeth. However, Eskom has been granted a positive record of decision on its environmental impact assessment for the Duynefontein site, where the Koeberg nuclear power station is currently located. The DMRE said this would mean shared facilities and resources, and seeks suggestions and motivations for the two sites. 

The DMRE pledged to achieve self-sufficiency throughout the nuclear value chain, while also pushing for technology, skills transfer and upscaling, and subsequent job creation. 

The department also wants nuclear energy to assist in infrastructure investment throughout the country. 

In addition, the department said that nuclear energy forms part of the country's strategy to mitigate climate change, by cutting out fossil fuels. 

It explained that compared to fossil fuels, greenhouse gas emissions from cycler energy are "negligible." 

The RFI said that due to many regions seriously considering nuclear energy for electricity generation, this could mean that suppliers, operation and maintenance would "become increasingly biased towards this technology." As such, the department feels South Africa "has to be prepared to respond appropriately." 

There are of course many aspects to consider when embarking on increasing the country's reliance on nuclear power.

Costs, plant designs and technology, licensing, environmental impact assessments and construction site feasibility studies, time limits, South Africa's limited fresh water supply and skills development are just some of the considerations discussed in the RFI, which calls on assessments from experts.

All queries to the RFI must be in by 4 September, and the deadline for RFI submissions is 15 September. 

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