South African policymakers had few answers yesterday about the repercussions of Japan’s partial nuclear meltdown for South Africa’s planned nuclear rollout, slated to add 9 600 megawatts of nuclear power to the grid by 2030.

Energy Minister Dipuo Peters was out of the country, but said she might release a statement on her return today after discussions with institutions like the Nuclear Energy Corporation of SA (Necsa).

Peters’ chief director for nuclear, Ditebogo Kgomo, said South Africa planned to follow a pressurised water reactor programme, which differed from the boiling water reactors at Japan’s Fukushima facility.

“These are two different technologies, so we don’t think we’ll call for a major review of policy,” Kgomo said. However, this position was subject to change.

Mike Kantey, the chairman of the Coalition Against Nuclear Energy, yesterday acknowledged the Fukushima facility’s reactors were “a mitigating circumstance – they are worse in design than, let’s say, Koeberg… But once you strip out defence in depth, it’s the same physics”.

Bloomberg reports that in India yesterday, Nuclear Power chairman Shreyans Kumar Jain said the Japanese accident might be “a big dampener” on India’s $175 billion (R1.2 trillion) nuclear generation programme over the next two decades, as the government instructed officials to undertake an immediate technical review of all safety systems of nuclear plants to be able to withstand natural disasters.

Meanwhile China, which is adding 27 nuclear reactors over five years, said it could factor the Fukushima incident into the drafting of its energy plans.

Eskom said yesterday that the government was best-placed to comment on any possible review of nuclear policy. The draft integrated resource plan 2010, released last year, stated that South Africa’s energy mix was set to comprise 14 percent nuclear energy by 2030. The final version is due next month.

Eskom said it would assess what went wrong with various systems at the Japanese nuclear facility to inform not only South Africa’s future nuclear power build programme, but also existing facilities. “I’m sure the whole industry around the world will be doing that,” said Eskom spokesman Tony Stott.

Eskom owns the Koeberg nuclear facility north of Cape Town. South Africa also operates the Pelindaba nuclear facility under Necsa, as well as the Vaalputs nuclear waste disposal site in the Northern Cape.

Dominique Gilbert, the co-ordinator of the anti-nuclear Pelindaba Working Group and a former employee at the nuclear facility, was concerned that Pelindaba, located in a dolomitic aquifer complex near the Hartebeespoort Dam, was threatened by acid mine drainage.

The problems at Fukushima highlighted that nuclear physics employed inherently risky technologies. “The problems at the core of a reactor are always going to be there. Once you lose control of a nuclear reaction, this is the result,” Kantey said. - Ingi Salgado