Plans for a new 2,500 megawatt (MW) nuclear power plant is in the works in South Africa, according to the country’s energy ministry’s briefing on Thursday.
Africa’s most industrialised economy, which operates the continent’s only nuclear power plant near Cape Town, said last year that it was considering adding more nuclear capacity in the long term, after abandoning in 2018 a massive nuclear expansion championed by its former President, Jacob Zuma.
However, analysts had complained about Zuma’s project for a fleet of nuclear plants totalling 9,600 MW as it would have placed additional strain on public finances at a time of credit rating downgrades.
Its current nuclear plant, Koeberg, has a capacity of around 1,900 MW and was synchronised to the grid in the 1980s.
“The development of the roadmap for the 2,500 MW Nuclear New Build Programme will commence soon,” the energy ministry said in a presentation to a parliamentary committee on its plans for 2020-25.
The presentation showed South Africa wanted to complete the procurement of the new nuclear plant by 2024 but gave no indication of when it wanted construction of the plant to begin or for when the plant would come online.
South African officials have talked about nuclear power as being part of an “energy mix” that also includes renewable sources like wind and solar as well as coal, on which it currently relies for more than 80% of its power generation.
But financing those nuclear ambitions could be difficult at a time that the country’s recession-hit economy is being hammered by the coronavirus pandemic, with this year’s budget deficit expected to stretch into double digits.
Energy Minister, Gwede Mantashe announced on Thursday, that the government would first “test the market” and hear what potential investors or consortia had to say about building the new nuclear facility.
“We may even give that company a right to develop a modular nuclear station on a build, operate and transfer basis, which means there may be no immediate call for funding from the state but the build programme can continue,” he said.
South Africa’s state utility provider had fallen short of supply needs over the years. This coupled with corruption and mismanagement led piling up an enormous debt. It failed to invest in infrastructures and did not bill customers according to market demands.
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