With a GDP of 370 billion dollars (62% of the GDP of Southern Africa, 21% of the GDP of sub-Saharan Africa), South Africa is the only African country member of the BRICS and the G20. It is the 2nd largest economy of the continent behind Nigeria and in front of Egypt. The country has many assets that make it an important emerging economy as it’s the most modern and diversified economy of Africa despite a strong dependence on the mining sector – 7% of GDP. South Africa has a powerful services sector, especially the financial sector which constitute about 21% of GDP, a wide openness to exports, political stability and reliable institutions. The country disposes of abundant natural resources, quality infrastructures, as well as a growing middle class. However, the country’s growth has struggled to rebound since the 2009 recession, the growth is only at 0.8% in 2018 and it’s expected to reach 1.4% and 1.7% in 2019 and 2020 respectively.
South Africa has a population of 54.8 million from which only 86% got access to electricity. In other words, 2.2 million South Africans are still in the dark, 66% of which in rural areas while urban areas have a 93% access according to USAID. The current installed capacity is 51.309 MW as 87% comes from thermal (mainly coal), 8% from renewables and 5% generated by nuclear.
The Koeberg nuclear power plant started operating in 1984 (unit 1) and 1985 (unit 2) with a total capacity of 1800 MWe, it was built by Areva (Now Framatome) as a PWRs and have been operated since then by Eskom. High-level nuclear waste is kept within the power plant inside pools, while low and medium level wastes are stored in the Vaalputs site.
Jacob Zuma (Former S. African President) government was planning to build 6 additional nuclear reactors as they were counting on nuclear energy to reduce their dependence on coal. However, after his forced resignation, the new president Cyril Ramaphosa canceled all the nuclear plans and shifted toward renewables instead. Nuclear energy doesn’t seem to be the priority at the moment in South Africa but the political landscape changes rapidly in Africa and nuclear could come back on the table sooner than we think.
The Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources, Gwede Mantashe said earlier this year that “The fact that we suspected corruption (in the previously floated Russia deal) doesn’t mean that nuclear is irrelevant for the country in 2019.” he added “planning for new nuclear power plants should start now, and that Koeberg demonstrates the benefits of nuclear power, give reason to South Africa continuing with the nuclear expansion programme.”
The South African government is considering once again the possibility of adding more nuclear capacity to their energy mix. As renewables alone cannot subsist to the country’s energy needs as stated by Dr. Bismark Tyobeka, CEO of the South African National Nuclear Regulatory (who will be attending Africa Nuclear Business Platform in Kenya next October to discuss South Africa vision) “As climate change becomes a reality, we see a lot of droughts and these can affect our rainfall patterns and hence our hydropower resources become constrained. On top of that, we must also keep in mind the cost of renewable energy which is not as cheap as people continue to advocate it to be. So, a healthy balance must be struck, taking into consideration that renewables are not base-load and cannot always be available. On the other hand, whilst nuclear power plants may be too expensive, there is a good return on investment on these plants, given the fact that the lifetime of nuclear power plants is now increasing up to a possible 80 years.” In line with Dr. Tyobeka comment the table below (from a study done by Ingerop/NucAdvisor) shows that nuclear energy is half the price of solar, cheaper than gas and wind, and only higher than coal which emit a considerable amount of greenhouse gases.
SMRs is a technology South Africa is seriously looking into, as it’s easier to finance compared to larger reactors and provide multiple benefits, such as the construction time which is much shorter and modularization. Minister Mantashe emphasis on that point “It comes back to a resolution we took as a government: not going big bang into nuclear, but going at a pace and price that the country can afford. … Go modular, go at a pace and price that the country can afford”
Nuclear would most likely be integrated into South Africa energy mix either as SMR or larger reactors, as the perspective of seeing new nuclear build in the rainbow nation during the next few decades is quite realistic taking into consideration countries energy needs and the last political positive statements.
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Author: Ibrahim Ababou (Global Account Manager), Nuclear Business Platform