South Africa plans new nuclear age

South Africa is launching a bidding process for an extra 2,500 megawatts (MW) of nuclear power by March.

“We are excited about the prospects and we are confident about our ability to ensure that within a reasonable period of time we are able (to announce) preferred bidders,” Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa said.

Ramokgopa reiterated that South Africa, which has the African continent’s only operational nuclear power plant, Koeberg, close to Cape Town, will build new ones at a scale and pace it can afford.

Koeberg, with a capacity of around 1,900 MW, provides around 5% of the country’s energy needs out of a nominal installed capacity of about 46,000 MW.

Government is awaiting regulatory approval after applying for a 20-year extension to Koeberg’s operating licence which expires in July 2024.

South Africa expects to commission the first unit of the new 2,500 MW nuclear project by 2032/33, said Zizamele Mbambo, a senior energy ministry official.

“We must issue an open and transparent tender that makes sure there is cost competitiveness,” Mbambo added.

However, South African has a chequered history here:  the government struck a 9,600 MW nuclear deal with Russia, initiated during Jacob Zuma’s presidency, but this was blocked by a legal challenge in 2017.

Meanwhile, financing and long-term storage options for radioactive waste remain concerns, environmentalists say.