South Africa Nuclear Energy Program to Proceed, Zuma Says

South Africa’s government will push ahead with plans to develop new nuclear power plants as it seeks to reduce its reliance on coal, President Jacob Zuma said.

“We expect to conclude the procurement of 9,600 megawatts of nuclear energy,” Zuma said yesterday in his state-of-the-nation address to Parliament in Cape Town.

Areva SA, EDF SA, Toshiba Corp.’s Westinghouse Electric Corp., China Guangdong Nuclear Power Holding Corp., Rosatom Corp. and Korea Electric Power Corp. are interested in building nuclear power stations in South Africa. The nation relies on coal for more than 90 percent of its electricity.

The National Treasury said in February last year that the 300 billion-rand ($37 billion) nuclear program was in the final stages of study. The National Planning Commission, a state advisory body headed by former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, has urged the government to consider using gas as an alternative to nuclear power, which the commission warned may prove too expensive.

“It is a given that we have adopted it as a policy in terms of the energy mix,” Zuma said at a breakfast briefing in Cape Town today aired by the South African Broadcasting Corp. “We do not yet have a timeline. It is imminent, but it is not tomorrow.”

In December, the Energy Ministry published a revised 20-year energy plan, which projected that new nuclear power will not be required until at least 2025.

Shale Gas

State-run Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. currently runs Africa’s only nuclear plant at Koeberg, near Cape Town. The 1,800-megawatt plant began operating in 1984.

Zuma said the government also wanted to exploit its shale-gas reserves, which could prove a “game changer” for the economy.

“Having evaluated the risks and opportunities, the final regulations will be released soon and will be followed by the processing and granting of licenses,” he said.

South Africa’s persistent electricity shortages should be alleviated when two new coal-fired power plants that are currently being built come on line, Brian Dames, the chief executive officer of state power utility Eskom, told the breakfast briefing. Eskom has added 6,000 megawatts of power over the past few years and the country should get an additional 3,000 megawatts of green energy over the next three years, he said.

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