24 May 2010

South Africa: State Still Sees a Role for Itself in Nuclear Industry

Johannesburg — THE state will continue to play a role in the nuclear industry, even if its involvement is minor, Department of Energy director-general Nelisiwe Magubane said on Friday.

The government has pronounced on its intentions to include nuclear energy in SA's future energy mix. Less clear is what the nuclear industry will actually look like.

Eskom owns SA's only nuclear power plant in Koeberg. It was on the verge of awarding a tender to build a new nuclear plant but canned the project because of the cost.

The government said at the time that it would change course away from a tender process to favour an approach that would stimulate the local nuclear industry.

Speaking at a nuclear forum in Pretoria, Magubane said there was still a need for the state "to be involved in nuclear", even if it was a minor role.

Magubane also reiterated government's position that nuclear would be part of SA's future energy mix. Her department was leading the development of a nuclear energy strategy. This strategy was one of the areas the government's inter-ministerial committee on energy would focus on.

"As an inter-ministerial and inter- departmental process, we are showing that the South African government is committed to nuclear across its highest levels of leadership," Magubane said.

The nuclear strategy would complement the integrated resource plan, "to ensure that the nuclear build programme required is realistic and achievable".

Magubane said the strategy would look at the support the government could lend to develop the infrastructure required for the nuclear build programme. This support would include skills development, legislation and regulation, fuel-cycle security and procurement.

The state-owned South African Nuclear Energy Corporation was finalising feasibility studies to ensure security of fuel for the nuclear build programme. Magubane said having locally-produced fuel would ensure beneficiation of SA's uranium resources and contribute positively to the country's balance of payments.

"I understand that there are many concerns regarding nuclear construction, cost and scheduling internationally. The truth is that some nuclear projects are actually completed ahead of schedule, implying that there are lessons to be learnt for us to embark on a successful nuclear build programme," she said.

"We also have to accept and understand that building an industry after almost 30 years of dormancy is going to present many challenges."

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