538 Deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe during the opening of the ANC 53rd congress held at UFS in Mangaung, Bloemfontein. 171212. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

 Johannesburg - South Africa needs more nuclear power plants to meet growing electricity demand, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe said on Monday.

“We need to produce electricity in other parts of the country to spread the electricity production points around the national grid,” Motlanthe said at the Nuclear Africa 2013 conference in Midrand.

“Nuclear power is ideal in this sense, because we can build large nuclear power plants at points around our southern coastline, and potentially elsewhere in the future... This is a strategically sensible approach which requires us to use other energy sources in addition to coal.”

Coal accounted for over 90 percent of the total electricity generation capacity, and it had been the primary energy source for South Africa.

“However, it has become crystal clear that coal is not the long-term solution for our development needs,” said Motlanthe.

“For one thing, most of our coal is clustered in the north-eastern part of the country, which results in the requirement for very long high voltage electricity supply lines... to transmit electricity across vast stretches of our country.”

He said in the medium-term coal had a role to play in mitigating current energy pressures and therefore would remain the mainstay of South Africa's electricity supply.

But the risk of rolling blackouts was significant.

“To this end our objective to deliver on these energy development imperatives requires short-term interventions to address immediate needs for basic electricity, followed by medium- to long-term sustainable and climate friendly energy development.

“Coal does not hold out prospects at the level of sustainable development.”

Due to the country's increasing dependence on coal for economic development, South Africa was ranked among the world's largest emitters of carbon dioxide.

Concerns over increases in the price of coal and global warming also compelled government to move away from an over-reliance on coal-fired power generation.

South Africa's electricity generation had to be increased significantly in the next few decades to facilitate economic growth and social progress.

“Therefore the way to go for us is in the long-term to become globally competitive in the use of innovative technology for the design, manufacture, and deployment of state-of-the-art nuclear energy systems,” he told delegates.

“South African industry has shown itself to be highly competent in the construction of our major coal-fired power stations. There is every reason to have confidence in the belief that South African industry can play a major role in the construction and fabrication of nuclear power plants.”

It was desirable that South African industry place itself in a position to export nuclear power components internationally.

Nuclear power plant construction was a major undertaking which would bring significant economic benefits to local industry, said Motlanthe.

“Nuclear construction and fabrication requires a particularly high standard of manufacturing quality, which in itself is a challenge,” he explained.

“In a number of other areas of technological advancement South African industry has shown itself capable of working to the required quality standards.”

However, some had voiced concerns about nuclear technology and its applications, especially in the power sector.

“To this extent we remain committed to strengthening and investing in research and development of clean energy technologies from a multitude of sources, while conscious to ensure minimal environmental impact and safety of generation methods.”

South Africa remained the world's largest producer of many minerals, including chrome, manganese, gold, and platinum. Government intended increasing total electricity supply considerably to satisfy growing demands.

“The world nuclear construction family is a reasonably close-knit community, and South Africa has the recognised ability to become a well-established member of this community,” he said. - Sapa