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  • Des Muller

Nuclear Energy: A Game-Changer for South Africa’s Industry

Author: Des Muller – Spokesperson for the SA Nuclear Build Platform

South Africa has a relatively small but experienced nuclear industry, with some of its talents behind the development of local and international small modular reactors (SMRs) and the operation of some of the world’s most advanced nuclear power plants. We are also leaders in the field of nuclear medicine and research.

Although, over the last four to five decades, our nuclear industry has been geared toward operating and maintaining our Koeberg power and Safari research reactors, the earlier nuclear power procurement programs and Koeberg’s life extension projects have developed a local nuclear supply chain, seeing new entrants qualifying for these opportunities and building capacity.

During the 2007 nuclear build procurement programme, South Africa’s industry became well-aligned with the two international nuclear vendors and their EPC contractors. Being a vendor-controlled turn-key EPC solution, with a fully integrated local workforce, the risks experienced on our recent coal builds would have been mitigated. This remains the preferred contracting strategy for all nuclear builds today.

In 2007, the localisation target would have resulted in a local spend of over R300 billion, across our industrial supply chain, over 15 years. This would have prevented the collapse of our construction and manufacturing sectors and significantly reduced today’s unprecedented levels of unemployment. The local operation and maintenance spend over the following 60 years would have significantly changed the economies around those power plants, as we have seen with Koeberg. We can no longer deny our industry these opportunities. Today, we have several large-scale nuclear power plants, SMRs and potentially a Multi-Purpose Research Reactor in our procurement plans. While this provides us more options, it adds complexity and time to the procurement process, which can pose challenges for our local industry.

The large-scale Generation III nuclear power plants are through their ‘first of a kind’ (FOAK) phase, with many reactors successfully connected to the grid and achieving designed performance. Many new nuclear power plants and SMR demonstration units are under construction internationally, significantly reducing construction schedule and cost risks for Africa.

A country that is setting a great example for South Africa on localising a nuclear new build is the UK. Although a lot larger than our industry, we are similar in having last built nuclear power plants almost four decades ago. Through an effective Government-led industrial development program, an ambitious localisation target for the first nuclear power plant was achieved. The UK’s fleet build programme will result in significant reductions in build costs and schedule, reducing electricity tariffs while creating exponential growth in local employment. A nuclear build programme delivers far-reaching and long-term impact across the industry’s supply chain: from advanced education to apprenticeship training, with top jobs in planning, legal, financial, regulatory, engineering, manufacturing, and construction disciplines. The plant’s operating & maintenance functions that follow for the next 70 years, places nuclear energy as an industry leader in providing decent high-paying jobs and technical careers over the long-term.

A great opportunity for our Intensive Energy Users Industry, is to help capitalize nuclear power plants in exchange for high-capacity, long-term, competitive, and clean off-take agreements; thereby significantly reducing their CO₂footprints while securing reliable energy supplies. Nuclear energy’s low cost and reliability will result in sustained economic growth for South Africa.

It is encouraging to see the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) requesting a public hearing on the suitability of the Thyspunt site, in the Eastern Cape, for a nuclear power plant. This is how we can effectively deliver the growth and prosperity we have promised that region. Let’s Participate!

Although the barriers to entry to the nuclear industry are understandably high, the sheer size of the opportunity makes it worthwhile for our industry. Before one can be contracted, significant progress on the nuclear qualification and safety culture programs are required. As seen with developed countries, nuclear qualifications and capabilities will advance our industries toward high-tech markets and other safety-class industries, like aerospace and LNG, reducing imports.

The timing for the engagement of our local industry in a nuclear build is vital. A well-coordinated alignment will optimize localisation while mitigating risks for our industry. This also requires a well-coordinated procurement programme between our Government stakeholders and the many nuclear vendors and technologies. Our local industry should be engaged systematically through orientation, assessments, prequalification, and integration programs, which the South African Nuclear Build Platform coordinates.

Jennifer Granholm – United States Secretary of Energy. - “Let me say it loud and clear. Carbon-free nuclear power is an absolutely critical part of our decarbonization equation.”

Des Muller - Co-Spokesperson for the SA Nuclear Build Platform


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