JOHANNESBURG - Finance Minister Tito Mboweni had not ruled out the inclusion of nuclear power into the electricity grid as Eskom continues to flounder.
Mboweni said on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on Friday, that the government needed to “honestly think” about nuclear power in order for Eskom to meet the country’s energy demands.
The South African economy has been stymied by prolonged power cuts as Eskom’s ageing coal-fired power plants experience frequent breakdowns.
“I’m sure you have heard the minister of minerals and energy saying we need to seriously begin even to think about nuclear very seriously, in an open and transparent way because the energy needs for South Africa are big,” Mboweni said.
“And particularly given the fact that the energy needs for South Africa are actually the southern African energy needs because of the interrelationship of the southern African political economy and the role of Eskom in the region’s energy mix.”
In December, Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe went to the market to procure between 2000 and 3000 megawatts (MW) of urgent power generation capacity.
Former president Jacob Zuma’ reportedly engaged in secret talks with Russia’s nuclear power company, Rosatom, to build eight nuclear reactors in South Africa.
The deal would have seen 9 600 megawatts of additional nuclear power added into the grid at a cost of about R1 trillion.
Former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene told the Zondo Commission of Inquiry that he was fired by Zuma in 2015 for refusing to approve the nuclear power deal as he believed it would have crippled the fiscus.
But Zuma has insisted, as soon as March 2019, that the proposed nuclear deal would have prevented the country’s energy crisis.
Mboweni said the key issues of concern by the international community and investors were Eskom and the country’s fiscal sustainability.
Mboweni said Team SA had assured the global community that the energy issues faced by Eskom were being handled, but acknowledged that the issues could not immediately go away.
“We deliberated that we have now delivered a multi-pronged energy strategy in South Africa, that involves Eskom but also renewables and other participants in the generation of electricity in the country, that we should achieve a state of power certainty in the medium- to long-term,” Mboweni said.
"Government will continue to push for the implementation of structural reforms. Though this may not happen overnight, but government will continue to discuss the reforms with all stakeholders."
Mboweni put blame on the government for failing to communicate sufficiently the country’s energy policy and mix.
“I think it is our fault as the government that we have net communicated sufficiently the policy positions that we have taken," he said.
"And the policy positions we have taken are actually quite revolutionary in a sense that we have decided to have a fairly complex mix of energy system in South Africa, including owner generated power which is a huge, huge development in South Africa, including renewable and Eskom issues."