South Africa’s Nuclear aspirations – More pebbles in the works?

Recent Greenpeace activism with respect to the expansion of nuclear energy on the African Continent has not deterred Dipuo Peters, the South African Minister of Energy who at a business breakfast hosted by the New Age, said President Jacob Zuma had given her the mandate to “demystify” nuclear power to overcome public concerns.
The Ministry of Energy continues to campaign for the effective utilisation of South Africa’s uranium rich reserves to create an abundance source of fuel for our energy intense economy duly advocating that African countries take a more proactive role in the energy revolution so as to not being reduced to bystanders.

Ongoing public concern with reference to the seismically induced nuclear power plant leaks in Japan as well as measures to deal with nuclear by-products abound. There was however no mention made in the Minister’s speech of the controversial Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) which remains in dormancy for the time being.

It is understood that a final decision on the fate of the controversial Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) would only be made in 2013, Public Enterprises Deputy Minister Ben Martins confirmed recently. Speaking to regulators in Cape Town, Martins said Eskom had been hosting the PBMR Company since April 1, 2012, and would continue to do so until the end of maintenance phase in 2013. Government withdrew their support for the PBMR after the company failed to secure an investor – this after investing more than R10-billion into the project.

There is a particular concern at this point in time that the failure to preserve the project’s cumulative intellectual property could manifest in an unwarranted premium to be footed by taxpayers for any envisaged nuclear projects. Aware of this, Martins claims that “Good progress has been made thus far, which includes packaging more than 86% of the intellectual property for preservation,” The Departments of Public Enterprises and Science and Technology are additionally pursuing an intellectual property audit of the PBMR, “in order to ensure a sound strategy to protect its future value”. A skills audit has also been conducted to ascertain how current expertise could best be utilised in the future nuclear endeavours.”

South Africa’s nuclear reactor build plans have garnered interest from across the globe. If all goes to plan, a minimum of R300 billion will be spent on increasing its nuclear capacity by 9,600 MW. The goal of the failed PBMR project was to ensure that South Africa would one day export its own nuclear IP. To this end Peters says that South Africa is not only looking at building new reactors, but it also wishes to mine more uranium resources and develop a nuclear waste management system.
The companies that were involved in building Koeberg may have an immediate advantage when it comes to involvement in South Africa’s nuclear power procurement because of their existing relationships. However, Russian nuclear service power providers recently hosted a seminar in South Africa to present their case and Chinese companies similarly will be looking to put forward their case on the back of strengthened economic ties with South Africa.

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