SA to unveil plans for 2,500MW nuclear power station

South Africa’s Energy Minister, Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, plans to unveil details by August 2024 for a new 2,500MW nuclear power station. The project aims to utilize advanced technology for efficiency and environmental benefits, potentially including small modular reactors. Ramokgopa highlights Eskom’s likely operational role, emphasizing competitive and cost-effective procurement processes.

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By Staff Writer*

Energy and electricity minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa is aiming to reveal South Africa’s plans for a new 2,500MW nuclear power station by the end of next month.

Ramokgopa told Sunday Times that a team was in the advanced stages of finalising the procurement structure for the new build project.

The minister explained that the procurement process would require approval from National Treasury, which the team was hoping to attain before the end of August 2024.

The minister’s announcement comes after he gazetted a determination in January 2024 confirming the government’s plan to implement a new nuclear build initiative.

In that document, Ramokgopa said that the capacity could be built by Eskom, an organ of the state, or in partnership with any other juristic person – like a private business.

The procurement process would also involve a tendering procedure which is “fair, equitable, transport, competitive, and cost-effective.”

Read more: Nyati – how Eskom’s killing loadshedding, creating surplus

In his feedback to Sunday Times, Ramokgopa said it was likely that Eskom would operate the plant, given its experience with Koeberg.

The minister said that some of the internal discussions around the project included what type of technology it would use.

“There’s the latest technology that is very rapid to deploy, relatively cheaper, and more efficient,” Ramokgopa said.

The government previously punted Thyspunt near Jeffreys Bay in the Eastern Cape as one of the possible sites for a new nuclear power station.

While nuclear power stations’ initial upfront costs are very high, their lower environmental impact and overall reliability over the long term are major strengths.

South Africa’s only nuclear power station — Koeberg — features a conventional pressurised water reactor (PWR) design and has a capacity of 1,860MW.

First commissioned in 1984, it has been one of Eskom’s most reliable power stations in its nearly 40-year original design life, with far fewer outages than the company’s coal-powered fleet.

The power station is currently undergoing refurbishment of its steam generators which aims to extend its life by a further 20 years.

A beach near Cape Town with the Koeberg Nuclear Power Plant in the background.

Among the latest innovations in nuclear technology that Ramokgopa could be alluding to are small-scale nuclear reactors, including pebble-bed modular reactors (PBMRs).

Eskom once had its own PBMR development programme — which ran from 1994 to 2009.

The project was shut down due to a lack of funding but many of the researchers involved in the programme have continued development of PBMR with private companies in other countries — including X-energy in the US.

Read more: Fight looming over new law that ends Eskom’s monopoly

PBMR offers several advantages over PWR, including safer operation, a smaller footprint, and faster deployment. However, the technology has yet to prove itself in the real world.

Towards the end of 2023, Rapport reported that South African venture capitalist AndrĂ© Pienaar’s C5 Capital was leading a consortium raising R9 billion in private funding to build a PBMR in the Western Cape.

That reactor would reportedly consist of four 80MW units providing a combined 320MW of power. It was planned to be one of several reactors that would form a 1,800MW network.

Pienaar estimated that the per-reactor cost would decline to between R4.5 billion and R5.5 billion as the rollout scales. That works out to roughly R14 million per MW.

For reference, one of South Africa’s newest coal power stations — Kusile — has seen its estimated completion cost balloon to R161 billion.

With its design capacity of 4,800MW, each MW of capacity at Kusile would have cost about R34 million to construct, over double the price of the much more advanced and cleaner PBMR.

At the time of Rapport’s report on the potential PBMR rollout, Pienaar said the consortium was conducting a feasibility study, after which it would enter formal discussions with Eskom over its plans.

The first reactor’s planned site is on the same terrain as Koeberg, which had already been approved for construction of a test PBMR.

The consortium hoped to secure a licence for the plant from the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa in early 2024 and to bring the reactor online within three years (2026).

For reference, conventional large-capacity nuclear power stations take anywhere from five to eight years to build.

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This article was originally published by My Broadband and has been republished with permission.