South African Nuclear Energy Corporation: Planning Tomorrow’s Energy Programme

It is widely acknowledged that South Africa has got to come up with some creative and effective solutions to its existing energy crisis. Rising costs and demands are putting an enormous strain on the corporate world and population alike. The nuclear power option remains for some a controversial subject, however the Government has pushed ahead, with the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa), playing a prominent role in helping to solve the country’s energy needs.

nuclear-power-stationSouth Africa made the decision to implement a nuclear power programme on 16 March 2011 whereby 9.6 GW of nuclear power is to be added to the national grid by 2030.

The future of the South African nuclear industry is under construction. This nuclear power expansion, in accordance with the IRP 2010–2030, aims to deliver a modern nuclear power generation fleet which will ensure a low cost and low carbon base load electricity supply for decades to come.

Necsa’s main functions include undertaking and promoting research and development in the field of nuclear energy and radiation sciences and technology; processing source material, special nuclear material and restricted material; and co-operating with persons in matters falling within these functions.

Apart from its main operations at Pelindaba, Necsa also operates the Vaalputs radioactive waste-disposal facility. The research reactor at Pelindaba, SAFARI-1, is now considered the most commercialised such reactor in the world with ISO 9001 accreditation.

Necsa also engages in commercial business mainly through its wholly-owned commercial subsidiaries NTP Radioisotopes SOC Ltd (NTP), which is responsible for a range of radiation-based products and services for healthcare, life sciences and industry, and Pelchem SOC Ltd (Pelchem), which supplies fluorine and fluorine-based products. Both subsidiaries, together with their subsidiaries, supply local and foreign markets, earning valuable foreign exchange for South Africa.

Not only does the state-owned Necsa provided vital research, it is also responsible for employing in excess of 1,400 people in such diverse areas as physics engineering, chemistry and electronics.

Phumzile Tshelane, CEO at Necsa, was quick to highlight the potential benefits of the county’s proposed new nuclear power station construction programme, when speaking recently at the Nuclear Africa 2013 conference in Midrand:

A successful new build programme would develop skills, create sustainable jobs, create wealth, especially at a regional level, and develop entrepreneurial skills, especially of the youth,” he affirmed. “We’re not planning for a turnkey solution.”

He suggested that for the programme to work successfully, there are a number of issues that will need to be addressed, including: clarification on the roles of government, government organisations and the private sector; human resources development; radioactive waste management; emergency preparedness and response; public engagement and a good nuclear regulator.

Whilst these imperatives are vital, Tshelane acknowledged that creating a nuclear infrastructure remains a complex challenges which will take many years to complete.

During his address, he quoted International Atomic Energy Agency deputy director-general: nuclear energy Dr Yuri Sokolov, who stated that “when we talk about infrastructure, we mean a system that provides legal, regulatory, technical, human and industrial support to ensure the effectiveness of the nuclear power programme and ensure that obligations for safety, security and safeguards are met.”

Tshelane also highlighted the important role of local business, indicating that the nuclear programme would look for strategic partners from a number of industries such as engineering and procurement, manufacturing, construction and construction management.

On May 14th, Ms Diputo Peters, Minister of Energy, underlined the important role of nuclear power in South Africa’s future:

Since the delegation of our mandate by the honourable President of the Republic of South Africa, Comrade Jacob Zuma, four (4) years ago in 2009, the Department of Energy has lived through an invigorating period. During this time, together with the wider energy sector, we have developed legislation, policies, strategies, and implemented a number of exciting programmes and projects but before I can reflect on the work of the Department since its creation in 2009, allow me acknowledge that the environment that the sector operates in is highly volatile.

We have had to quickly develop and implement mitigating strategies to overcome whatever hurdles we have encountered“.

In line with the IRP that recognises Nuclear as an integral part of the national energy mix, the new nuclear build programme will add 9,600 Megawatts to the national grid by 2023. To this end the National Nuclear Energy Executive Coordination Committee (NNEECC) is in place.

Nuclear power carries tremendous benefits for South Africa in terms of the lowest clean base load levelised cost; broader energy mix; alignment with our beneficiation strategy; industrialisation and localisation; mitigation of CO2 emissions; and leapfrogging South Africa into the knowledge economy and massive industrial development. We also believe that the Youth Accord will be given expression through massive skills development in this programme.

As recently as February 2013, South Africa set an unmatched international example, by following up our own country assessment with an International Atomic Energy Agency led “International Nuclear Infrastructure Review” (INIR). So far we are the first country with an operating nuclear power plant and reactors to voluntarily conduct such a readiness assessment.

The department will continue working towards the rollout of the nuclear programme including reaching a final investment decision towards the procurement of nuclear power plants.

Other State Owned Entities reporting to the Minister of Energy include the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) and NECSA. The two nuclear sector SOEs will continue to work with the Department in preparatory work for the nuclear expansion programme.

Necsa’s vision is to pursue nuclear technology excellence for sustainable social and economic development. For South Africa to fulfil its nuclear ambitions, the journey ahead remains a long one.

There is a process for procurement. We take cognisance of the fact that this programme is a multiple of what the arms deal was and we must manage it carefully. It is necessary to do early training of core and critical skills, as we don’t want to suffer delays due to a shortage of such critical skills.

We need to leverage agreements between the South African government and international partners. We must leverage supplier and utility relationships. We must engage the IAEA for support and technical cooperation. All this does not happen overnight and these steps need to take place now,” Tshelane summarises.