The Democratic Alliance (DA) is appalled by reports that the Mineral Resources and Energy Minister, Gwede Mantashe, is seeking to fast-track the procurement of nuclear energy by seeking a section 34 approval from NERSA. Such an approval will enable the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy to commence a tender process for the construction of a nuclear power plant or plants.
Just a few short months ago, in June 2020, Mantashe assured the nation that the Request for Information (RFI) for 2500MW of nuclear power was required because “upfront planning was necessary for security of energy supply to society” and that the long lead times for a nuclear build programme required early planning and consultation. It is now clear that this is merely a smokescreen for an unauthorized and unaffordable nuclear procurement programme.
The Integrated Resource Plan (government’s electricity roadmap to 2030), approved in October last year, makes no allocation for a nuclear new build, and only contemplates life extension for the existing Koeberg plant and preparations for a new nuclear programme, at a pace and scale that the country can afford. It certainly does not envisage the early procurement or approval of such programme prior to appropriate feasibility studies and the necessary public participation. None of this has occurred as yet.
Internationally, demand for nuclear power plants has dropped dramatically, and those that are being built are years behind schedule and incurring huge cost overruns. There is some speculation that the build programme the Department seeks to implement is based on Small Modular Reactors. This, however, is not yet commercially viable and South Africa would essentially be the “guinea pig” for the rest of the world. There is a time and place for pilot projects. This isn’t it.
The DA will submit a request to the Speaker of Parliament for an urgent debate on the process followed by the Minister and the Department to date, why such a process has ignored the IRP and proceeded full steam ahead, as though it was a foregone conclusion that the country could afford it and indeed wanted it, and why the nuclear build programme is being prioritized ahead of other forms of power.
In light of the economic and humanitarian crisis faced by our country, nuclear is arguably one of the last things we should be considering. Instead, as the DA has stated repeatedly, we should be forging ahead with the one element of the IRP that can be implemented relatively quickly – namely, new renewable energy independent power producers.
The DA will also seek an immediate review of the nuclear programme within the Portfolio Committee on Mineral Resources and Energy, with particular emphasis on the dismal performance of both NECSA (the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa) and the failure by the department to meet its own objectives for the past two years in its Nuclear Energy Programme (Programme 5).
It is unacceptable that this department is considering an expensive and lengthy nuclear new build programme, while its own house is completely dysfunctional when it comes to nuclear planning, regulation and operations. This cannot be allowed to be brushed under the carpet without intense scrutiny and oversight.
Click here to read more about the DA’s plan to drive the cost of electricity down, introduce competition into the energy sector, and diversify the country’s energy sources to introduce more renewables, as well as our record of action on the electricity crisis over the last 8 years.