050910 Electricity pylons carry power from Cape Town's Koeberg nuclear power plant July 17, 2009. South Africa will need 20 gigawatts (GW) of new power generation capacity by 2020 and would require double that amount a decade later to meet rising demand, the country's power utility said September 7, 2009. Picture taken July 17, 2009. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings (SOUTH AFRICA ENERGY BUSINESS)

Cape Town -

The government is sticking to its guns and insists it will accelerate plans to build new nuclear power stations that could cost as much as R1 trillion or more to help secure the country’s energy supply.

But the DA has slammed the move, describing it as “the arms deal and the e-toll debacle rolled into one and then magnified by 10”.

The government’s commitment to the new nuclear build was confirmed this week in Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson’s budget speech.

This comes despite notice by her department late last year that this decision could be delayed because of reduced demand for power.

It also flies in the face of a call for caution from the National Planning Commission that wants the government to adopt a “least regret” approach to building new power sources, and to employ “least-cost” power generation technologies.

In 2010, then-Energy Minister Dipuo Peters announced that the government intended building six

1 600MW nuclear power stations to generate 9 600megawatts (9.6GW) of power. A procurement and financing framework was to be finalised that year, and the new generators were due to come on stream at 18-month intervals from 2023, with 23 percent of new generating capacity scheduled to come from nuclear by 2030.

In her prepared budget speech, Joemat-Pettersson said President Jacob Zuma had made it clear that addressing current energy constraints to create a favourable environment for economic growth and development was “an apex priority”.

“We are committed to the countrywide rollout of our economic and social infrastructure programme, especially in the energy sector… This will include the use of nuclear power for base-load energy generation, which will be in a safe and environmentally sustainable manner.” Nuclear expansion “is a central feature in our future energy mix, given the emissions reduction target we have set ourselves, and the possibility of catapulting South Africa into the top echelons of the knowledge economy”.

The government’s plan was to introduce about 9.6GW of nuclear energy “in the next decade”, in addition to running the Koeberg power station.

“I intend to focus on and accelerate all the outstanding matters that will lead to the commencement of the nuclear build programme as envisaged in the IRP (Integrated Resource Plan). These include the localisation, financing, funding, skills development, fuel cycle and uranium beneficiation strategies to support the nuclear new build programme.”

DA energy and labour spokesman Lance Greyling said his party was happy the government had finally recognised that South Africa was in the midst of a major energy crisis.

However, instead of a “fresh new approach” to solving this crisis, there was “more of the ANC’s outdated state monopoly thinking in the form of the proposed nuclear build programme”.

This would cost the country upwards of R1 trillion and push electricity prices to “completely un-affordable” levels, driving down economic growth and with it electricity demand.

The “absurd” situation could result where, after building the nuclear plants, there would be no customers willing to buy energy from them.

ACDP spokeswoman Cheryllyn Dudley said there was a need for greater clarity on the proposed nuclear build, and she called on Joemat-Pettersson to hold a full inquiry into the state of the nuclear industry.

“Koeberg has passed its sell-by date and increasingly been shut down for repairs at huge cost. The department seems to want to extend its life, just as with Safari-1 (research reactor commissioned in 1965), while nuclear reactors the world over that were built in the same era have officially been closed.”

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Cape Argus