South Africa is well on its way to embracing a nuclear and shale gas energy future with little likelihood that even if a vast reservoir of gas is found in the Karoo that the government will scale back plans to build new nuclear power plants.
This emerged during a briefing by Energy Minister Dipuo Peters and her director-general Nelisiwe Magubane ahead of the Department of Energy’s budget vote last week.
Pressed on her favourable stance towards hydraulic fracturing – which a Royal Dutch Shell survey indicated could produce R80 billion for the gross domestic product of the country even if the resource was found to be limited – Peters was asked whether the government would consider scaling back a nuclear build programme if the shale gas resource was found on a large scale. “If the extraction for shale gas is agreed to by cabinet, we don’t see it replacing (the nuclear option),” she said.
Her response was emphatic that a nuclear component to the energy requirements remained a deep-seated commitment of the government.
She also emphasised that any nuclear build programme should be carried out “in collaboration” with other countries and that the process should not be so localised that South Africa ended up using “technologies not used elsewhere”. It was clearly a reference to the failed – and recently scrapped – pebble bed nuclear reactor project.
However, nuclear power was part of the plan for South Africa, particularly when one considered the growing power needs of the country.
On shale gas extraction, which is done by injecting water and chemicals deep in to the earth under great pressure, she said this procedure had benefited the US tremendously at a time when petro-chemical costs had risen sharply.
Noting that a decision on a technical report would be presented to the cabinet on fracking in July, she said: “Those skills (in the oil and gas sector) would be lost if we do not exploit that which we have.”
During the debate Anton Alberts, the Freedom Front MP, said: “Let me warn the minister: fracking will be the ANC’s third suicide scandal, the first being the arms deal and the second the Gauteng e-toll system.
“We will be watching who positions themselves to get what tenders.
“And we will, with the rest of the world, oppose this ill-founded idea to make money out of nature.”
ID energy spokesman Lance Greyling said the current 20-year energy plan required all South Africans to shoulder the risk of massive investments.
If nuclear energy came on stream for a price that was not globally competitive, these companies could decide to expand their operations elsewhere, leaving us with the problem of “extremely expensive stranded assets”.
Asked if the government had held talks with nuclear energy companies like France’s Areva and the US-based Westinghouse, Peters said this would not be appropriate before any bidding process for the build programme was started.