The decision by the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Gwede Mantashe, to invite expressions of interest for the proposed 2500MW nuclear energy build programme at the end of the 2021/2022 financial year is a reflection of misplaced priorities and policy discord on South Africa’s energy crisis.
Eskom’s dire financial situation and the economy’s continued downward spiral renders any fantasy about a multi-billion rand nuclear build programme an exercise in futility. The Covid-19 pandemic and the constrained fiscal space have left no room for South Africa to embark on costly and lengthy capital projects such as nuclear power stations.
Considering the scale and financial commitment which comes with the construction of nuclear power plants, opportunities for corruption and malfeasance increase exponentially. South Africans witnessed first-hand the industrial-scale theft which took place at Medupi and Kusile power stations, resulting in a threefold increase in construction costs.
In a presentation to the Presidential Climate Commission in July this year, Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter made a clear pivot away from nuclear when he indicated that it was the least desirable option for new electricity generation because of unsustainable cost margins. Procuring a nuclear new build by 2024, as Mantashe has indicated, is certainly not, at this point in our history, at a pace and scale that South Africa can afford.
The DA is not opposed to nuclear power. What we are objecting to is the blind pursuit of a nuclear build programme that is by all accounts beyond our reach. South Africa should rather be pursuing a rapid deployment of independent power generation, from multiple sources of supply, with a strong emphasis on renewable energy, and building a robust grid infrastructure, with associated storage. We should be encouraging and incentivising energy efficiency, and making it easier for municipalities, businesses, and citizens to become self-sufficient in terms of electricity generation.