Nuclear plants may be delayed

Carol Paton and Herald Reporter

THE possibility that the decision to build nuclear power plants in South Africa could be delayed until 2025 is a step in the right direction for energy justice in the country.

This is according to anti-nuclear lobby group Thyspunt Alliance spokeswoman Trudi Malan, after the Energy Department said the decision could be delayed as revised projections of electricity demand showed that new nuclear power would not be required until after 2025.

Malan said while she was not convinced the decision had been delayed, just the possibility it had was an exciting development.

“This shows government is taking a positive step by not tying the country up with big contracts and forcing us to rely on what is the most expensive form of power.”

She said they had been fighting for a long time to keep the proposed nuclear power station from being built at Thyspunt, near Jeffreys Bay, as it would have a negative impact on the area as well as affect tourism.

“Now this would be a great time for government to declare the area a coastal cradle of humankind, and a good time for economic development in the region.”

The revised projection suggests that if the cost of nuclear power is too high then other options – such as regional hydro and shale gas – could fulfil the requirement‚ and nuclear procurement be abandoned.

This is among several revisions made to the updated version of the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) for electricity‚ published for comment on the department’s website. The IRP is a 20-year plan that models demand and supply of electricity and plans for generation needs.

News that the nuclear procurement is to be delayed will be music to the ears of the National Planning Commission (NPC)‚ which has cautioned against committing to an expensive and irreversible nuclear programme.

The updated IRP makes a range of proposals‚ many of which relate to decisions that are keenly awaited by industry.

In addition to the delay of nuclear procurement‚ it is recommended that the proposed procurement of “Coal 3” proceed but that this be done using fluidised bed combustion technology. Coal 3 would also be far smaller than Medupi and Kusile‚ with a generation capacity of between 1000 and 1500MW.

The plan says that among the guidelines for future decisions would be consideration of regional hydro projects in Mozambique and Zambia, procurement of natural gas in the region and stepping up shale gas exploration, additional rounds of the renewable bid programme and extending the life of Eskom’s coal-fired stations.

The planning framework rests on the assumption of lower electricity demand in 2030 than was assumed in the first iteration of the IRP in 2010. Demand in 2030 is expected to be 6600MW lower than was anticipated at an upper range of 61200MW. The plan assumes a strong economic growth rate of 5.4% a year‚ based on the projections made by the National Development Plan.

Omphi Aphane‚ deputy director-general of policy and planning in the department‚ said the updated IRP took a more flexible approach to the 2010 version‚ to allow for a range of variables including uncertainty of demand‚ potential for shale gas and other gas developments‚ and the cost of nuclear and future fuel costs.

“It is a robust‚ flexible approach based on smaller investments rather than the big lumpy ones we have got used to.”

With regard to the decision on nuclear procurement, the IRP says that “revised demand projections suggest that no new nuclear base-load capacity is required until after 2025, and for lower demand not until earliest 2035”.

Aphane said the delay of nuclear procurement depended on a range of factors. In particular‚ it depended on the extension of the life of Eskom’s existing power stations and the security of a supply of coal for them.

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