South Africa Energy Department to Lead Nuclear Build Program

South Africa’s Department of Energy will take over from power utility Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. as the lead agency implementing the country’s multibillion-dollar nuclear-reactor program.

“Eskom has come to government and said that with its present situation it cannot handle the nuclear build program,” Zizamele Mbambo, deputy director-general in charge of nuclear energy, told reporters in Cape Town Tuesday. “This will mean a change to government’s current policy.”

South Africa’s energy plan lists Eskom as the owner and operator of the 9,600 megawatts of nuclear-powered generating units that are to be built by 2030. The utility, which supplies about 95 percent of the country’s electricity, had planned blackouts on 25 days last month because it can’t meet demand from aging plants following years of underinvestment.

There is a sense of urgency about starting the nuclear build program even as no cost estimates have been released, said Wolsey Barnard, acting director-general of the Department of Energy.

“Seven of Eskom’s coal-fired plants will be out of commission by 2023 and that would take 12,000 megawatts out of the national electricity grid,” he told lawmakers. The company relies on coal for about 80 percent of generation.

The country has held nuclear workshops with Russia, China, the U.S., France, South Korea, Japan and Canada on new facilities, ignoring objections from environmental activists, opposition parties, unions and even its own advisers.

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