Koeberg nuclear power station in Cape Town. South Africa remains a respected major role player in the global nuclear industry. Photo: Courtney Africa/African News Agency (ANA)

JOHANNESBURG – South Africa has historically played a significant role in global nuclear development, which is important to put into perspective.  

President Dwight Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace speech given in 1953 was the catalyst that resulted in the development of a programme in which the US transferred nuclear technologies, originally developed for military reasons, for civilian use. 

On the strength of its uranium resources, South Africa became one of the founding members and therefore has a permanent seat on the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency founded in 1957.

A nuclear research reactor called the South African Fundamental Atomic Research Installation (Safari-1) was commissioned at Pelindaba, 15km from Atteridgeville, on March 18, 1965. This reactor was fundamental to South Africa's entry into the nuclear global sphere. 

Subsequently, this resulted in the establishment of institutions such as the Koeberg nuclear power station, Ithemba Labs, the National Nuclear Regulator, the National Radioactive Disposal Institute and the Vaalputs nuclear waste disposal facility in the Northern Cape. 

South Africa remains a respected major role player in the global nuclear industry.  

The Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa's (Necsa's) nuclear capabilities are of strategic importance in enabling the economic performance and meeting of regulatory requirements of existing nuclear facilities. 

As a state-owned entity mandated to undertake nuclear technology research and development, Necsa will utilise and improve its capabilities just as similar organisations have undertaken in other countries to:

  • Develop nuclear technologies to ensure that we remain competitive in the supply of nuclear medical and industrial isotopes.
  • Utilise our international quality standards (ASME III and ASME VIII engineering design and manufacturing) capabilities to enable maintenance of existing nuclear facilities and the development of local industry to reduce the dependence of foreign entities on nuclear technologies.
  • Cascade our international quality certification (ASME) capabilities to the local industry to enable localisation, industrialisation, economic growth, and job creation during the replacement of the Safari-1 research reactor and future nuclear new build. 

When delivering his Budget speech in July, Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe emphasised the continuing role nuclear power would play in South Africa’s future and remarked that “as we transition to a diversified, cleaner energy future, the country would acquire nuclear at a price, pace and scale it can afford”. 

To support this, South Africa needs to maintain and expand its nuclear value chain development and capabilities, thus enabling the realisation of its political, economic, social, technological, environmental, and legal national and international obligations. 

There is a need for Necsa to use its research and development capabilities to assist the country to:

  • Transition to a diversified cleaner energy future.
  • Address water shortages by desalination of sea water. 
  • Become globally competitive in the use of innovative technology for the design, manufacture and deployment of nuclear energy systems in accordance with Nuclear Energy Policy. 
  • Ensure reliable energy and security supply.

David Fig’s article of July 16 titled “Shutting down SA’s nuclear future” in UCT News is devoid of proper nuclear historical perspective and the vital role Necsa currently plays in the economic development of this country and globally. 

It would have been more relevant to examine Necsa’s future role after the finalisation of the Integrated Resource Plan 2018 (IRP 2018), which is due at the end of September. Necsa cannot act on an IRP 2018 that has not been approved by the Cabinet. 

The IRP 2018 is still being reviewed and it does not make sense to conclude that South Africa no longer ascribes to a future that includes nuclear technologies. 

Necsa’s strategy is guided by and approved by the government as its shareholder and the IRP defines the policy that will map out South Africa’s energy mix vision moving forward.

It is time to move away from the narrative of creating rivalries between energy technologies in the absence of an approved Integrated Resource Plan.

South Africa should appreciate the strategic nuclear capabilities it has in Necsa and leverage on these capabilities in the best interests of the country, to benefit the future of South Africa. 

Ayanda Myoli is the acting chief executive of South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa).

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