Eskom unveils new nuke power plan

Eskom intends to build a conventional nuclear power station at Koeberg - in addition to the pebble bed modular reactor (PBMR) planned for the site, public enterprises minister Alec Erwin has announced in London.

Experts say a conventional nuclear power station is likely to cost R16-billion "at the cheapest".

Erwin, who attended a nuclear industry conference, TopNux, in London this week, has been quoted in Platts Nuclear News Flashes as saying Eskom is "fast-tracking" a feasibility study on the proposed nuclear power station.

The TopNux conference focused on new nuclear reactor systems.

Platts Nuclear News Flashes, an electronic edition for subscribers, is highly regarded in the nuclear industry as an "unimpeachable" publication.

Erwin told the publication a feasibility study for the nuclear power station had begun around October and would take about two years to complete. He said Eskom had begun "to fast-track it now".

"(Erwin) said South Africa was not yet talking to international vendors, but plans to after the study is completed," News Flashes said.

Erwin told the publication that South Africa needed to "bring a baseload plant into the southern part of our grid".

Eskom said earlier this month it would be fast-tracking plans to build a baseload power generator with a capacity of 1 050MW in the Western Cape, but it did not say this was to be a nuclear power station.

Sources close to the industry have questioned why Erwin chose to announce South Africa's domestic policy at an international conference. They say his attendance at a conference of this nature probably indicated that South Africa "wanted to do some shopping".

UK energy policy specialist Steve Thomas believes South Africa's stretched National Nuclear Regulator, which licenses nuclear power stations, will be extremely hard-pressed to deal with the PBMR and a conventional nuclear power station at the same time.

"I would think it would have to be an 'either or', a choice between the two," Thomas said.

"Perhaps this announcement of a conventional nuclear power station reflects Eskom's growing disenchantment with the PBMR technology, given the long overruns and the enormous escalations in cost."

Sources have said that Eskom has been trying to "wriggle out" of building the PBMR at Koeberg since 2002, when it expressed reservations about the financial risks.

The planned PBMR is a demonstration model. If it turns out to be successful, South Africa plans to build 30 for export.

Some experts say, however, that there are unlikely to be any takers for the PBMR, an untested technology.

Although the recent blackouts in the Western Cape, which crippled industry, commerce and agriculture, have shown there is a desperate need for more power in the province, building a second nuclear power station would not sort out the immediate problem.

By the time Eskom has gone through all the approval proceedings, the earliest the new nuclear power station could come on line would be 2016.

Asked to comment on the proposal to build a nuclear power station, Eskom spokesperson Fani Zulu referred the Cape Times to Erwin's spokesperson, who was unavailable.

Although Eskom announced plans last month to sort out the Western Cape's energy problems, Cape Town and the province will not be safe from blackouts until the end of July.

This is the earliest Koeberg's two nuclear reactors will be fully operational. Until then there will be a 300MW shortfall, which Eskom hopes to make up through energy-saving measures.

The province gets about half its power from Koeberg and half from Mpumalanga.

Eskom says it has begun upgrading transmission lines so they carry more power and to reduce faults, but this will not be completed until May next year.

The two gas turbines under construction at Mossel Bay and Atlantis, Cape Town, will not be operational until the middle of next year.

  • This article was originally published on page 1 of Cape Times on March 24, 2006

Article by: Melanie Gosling - http://www.iol.co.za