The country’s proposed nuclear expansion project will not happen in the near future, according to Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba.
It would be “foolhardy” to rush into building the new nuclear fleet before all of the concerns, including safety, had been ironed out, he said yesterday. And contrary to some reports, South Africa had not signed an agreement with any country regarding nuclear procurement.
In response to questions at a press briefing on Eskom’s quarterly state-of-the-system update yesterday, Gigaba said: “It would be foolhardy to hasten to implement the nuclear programme unless we have determined well in advance all the measures we need to take.”
Gigaba said the proposed nuclear fleet was “a massive procurement programme”.
Issues like safety had to be considered seriously. “Yes, we are committed to the nuclear build programme, but when we do it we need to be certain we have considered all the steps we need to,” he said.
Reports have put the cost of the proposed 9 600 megawatts of new nuclear power anywhere between R300 billion and R1 trillion.
Gigaba said the government had decided Eskom would be the owner of the new fleet, and the government would have to “look at the capacity of Eskom to fund the programme”.
“These decisions are not being deferred out of negligence, it’s just that a lot of other work needs to be done.”
Asked if an agreement had been signed with Russia, Gigaba said: “There is no country which is number one in the queue.”
While South Africa had signed a number of agreements with countries to assist with issues like training, this did not place any of these countries – including Russia – in an advantageous position.
There was also no certainty where the money would come from to build Coal-3, the third mega coal-fired power station in the pipeline.
Gigaba said Coal-3 had been “thought of quite seriously” by the cabinet, which would make a commitment “in due course”.
“We’re aware by 2017 we’ll be facing new energy constraints. Unless we make certain decisions now, we will find ourselves in trouble by then,” he said.
Eskom chief executive Brian Dames said the utility was “very pleased” with the cabinet’s view on Coal-3.
However, the funding Eskom had now would cover only what they had committed to build already, which did not include Coal-3.
Asked his view on fracking for shale gas, Dames said Eskom believed that it would “change fundamentally” the energy picture in South Africa.
Eskom believed that shale gas should be exploited. If it were, Eskom would build new gas plants, he added.
“If the gas is there and it can be exploited and address the environmental concerns… as far as Eskom is concerned – we should do it… We would build new gas plants in the Northern Cape. We would have power generation right in the middle of the country.”