South Africa’s new nuclear plan will fail like Zuma’s – professor

The government’s new plan to procure 2,500 MW of nuclear power will fail, just as the R1 trillion nuclear build-out by the Jacob Zuma administration failed. 

This is feedback from energy expert Professor Hartmut Winkler, who told Newzroom Afrika that the process of acquiring new nuclear power has been handled poorly. 

Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa announced on Tuesday, 12 December, that South Africa will soon begin the procurement process for around 2,500MW of nuclear energy.

Ramokgopa said that while the government continues to build towards energy security in the future, energy continues to be poured into addressing the immediate challenge of load-shedding.

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

However, any potential benefit from new nuclear power will only be felt in a decade when the first unit is expected to be completed. 

Winkler said the announcement itself is controversial and raises questions about potential undue influence behind the scenes as it comes just before a new Integrated Resource Plan is set to be made public. 

“Whenever there have been controversial announcements, they have been made in December in the hope that nobody will notice,” Winkler said. 

“I see it as pretty disastrous, and the whole idea that you would embark on a project like that is disastrous. It would probably cost a minimum of R250 billion.”

Winkler said the idea of expanding South Africa’s nuclear capacity originated during the Jacob Zuma administration, which had the ambition to conduct a R1 trillion nuclear build-out. 

He claimed that as Zuma’s planned nuclear expansion failed, so would this new attempt. “This started under Jacob Zuma and his big nuclear build which failed and I can see this project failing as well,” Winkler said.

Aside from the announcement coming before a new Integrated Resource Plan has been published, Winkler said the real controversy would begin when a site has to be chosen along with the preferred bidder. 

“That is where I can see the real controversy arising.”

The size of the project at 2,500 MW is almost perfect for Russia’s 1,200 MW nuclear reactor model, Winkler said. 

Other possible bidders do not build reactors of that capacity and are unlikely to win the bid. If they do, they will have to spend immense resources redesigning their models. 

“The way this whole thing has been played out, I cannot help thinking that something has been agreed on behind the scenes.”

Winkler emphasised that nuclear is not the cheapest technology nor the fastest way to end load-shedding as a build of this size will take over a decade and be immensely expensive. 


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