File image: Eskom Nuclear Power Station. IOL.

CAPE TOWN - Eskom said on Friday the department of energy has granted it permission to build a new nuclear power plant at Duynefontein in the Western Cape, near the existing Koeberg plant, and it was now waiting for government to make a policy decision on whether to proceed with the country's contested nuclear power expansion programme.

Eskom's chief nuclear officer Dave Nicholls welcomed the department's decision and said it marked a milestone in the development of South Africa's nuclear energy capacity.

“We welcome the authorisation by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) on the Final Environmental Impact Report (F-EIR) for the Nuclear-1 Power Station and associated infrastructure, and consider this an important milestone in the development process of South Africa’s nuclear programme."  

He said Eskom had believed the department would give the nod to development at an alternative site at Thyspunt in the Eastern Cape, it had also prepared itself to proceed at Duynefontein.  

"While we had worked on Thyspunt being the preferred site according to the F-EIR compiled by an independent environmental practitioner GIBB, we have always considered both sites equally capable of hosting a nuclear power plant. To this end, we had progressed the Nuclear Installation Site Licence (NISL) to the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) for both sites.”

He said it should be noted  that "no fatal flaws" had been found regarding Thyspunt and three other sites - Schulpfontein and Brazil in the Northern Cape and Bantamklip in the Western Cape - and this meant that they remained future option for new nuclear plants.

Eskom spokesman Khulu Phasiwe said at this stage Eskom could not say if and when, it would proceed with the procurement of new plants, a process halted by a court challenge.

In May, the Western Cape High Court set aside two determinations gazetted by former energy minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson on nuclear procurement in 2015 and 2016 as unlawful and unconstitutional, and also invalidated nuclear co-operation pacts South Africa signed with five countries, including Russia.

The determinations provided for the construction of nuclear plants with a capacity of 9,600MW.

Energy Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi opted not to challenge the ruling, but confirmed that adding more nuclear power to the national grid remained the government's "declared intention", based on the nuclear energy policy it adopted in 2008 and its Integrated Resource Plan. 

Phasiwe said Eskom would be guided by the prescriptions on nuclear power in the updated IRP, but planned do as preparation at Duynefontein, and possibly other sites, to allow it to move with speed once this blueprint was released. 

"We are trying to prepare in advance. Once the decision comes, then we already know where to go and we already have the permission from the environmental side. Everything is now hanging on the decision from government as to how many sites they want."

The Duynefontein is some 600 hectares big and lies next to the country and Africa's only existing nuclear power plant at Koeberg, which came into operation in 1984.

- AFRICAN NEWS AGENCY