South Africa needed to develop a ‘Plan B’ should an investigation into the economics associated with deploying 9 600 MW of nuclear energy capacity prove it too expensive, the newly released National Development Plan 2030 asserts.
The plan, which was handed to President Jacob Zuma on Wednesday, acknowledged that the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) for electricity proposed that new nuclear energy plants be commissioned from 2023/24.
But it also argued that South Africa needed a “thorough investigation” of the implications of nuclear energy, including its costs, financing options, institutional arrangements, safety, environmental costs and benefits, localisation and employment opportunities, and uranium-enrichment and fuel fabrication possibilities.
“While some of these issues were investigated in the IRP, a potential nuclear fleet will involve a level of investment unprecedented in South Africa. An in-depth investigation into the financial viability of nuclear energy is thus vital,” the 484-page document added.
The National Nuclear Energy Executive Coordinating Committee (NNEECC), chaired by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, would make a final “stop-go” decision on South Africa’s nuclear future.
The NNEECC, which was set up late last year, had its inaugural meeting in early August, when it began deliberation on the findings of a so-called ‘integrated nuclear infrastructure review’. The review is a self-assessment of the country’s readiness to proceed with a new nuclear build and reportedly covers 19 areas. The International Atomic Energy Agency had also been requested to conduct an external assessment of the review.
But the 26-member National Planning Commission (NPC) argued that an alternative plan be developed in the event that sufficient financing was unavailable, or timelines became too tight.
“All possible alternatives need to be explored, including the use of gas, which could provide reliable base-load and mid-merit power generation through combined-cycle gas turbines,” the plan stated.
Commissioner Tasneem Essop indicated that the NPC had not been prescriptive as to which entity or organ should conduct the cost/benefit analysis, only that one should be completed ahead of any decision to proceed to a procurement phase.
The analysis should also not be confined to the economics of the project and should include social and environmental aspects. She also indicated that the NPC would be willing to provide advice to the entity tasked with conducting the analysis.