Economics remain the key driver behind South Africa's policy decision to pursue nuclear power, newly appointed energy minister David Mahlobo told a meeting of the Generation IV International Forum (GIF). He said the country is still interested in the possible future deployment of Generation IV technology, such as the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor, but that it is currently focused on "readily deployable" technologies to meet its electricity needs.
Mahlobo addressed a GIF Policy Group meeting in Cape Town on 19 October, the day after President Jacob Zuma announced his appointment as energy minister as part of a reshuffle of the National Executive. The previous energy minister, Mmamaloko Kubayi, who was appointed to the role in a cabinet reshuffle in March, has become minister of communications.
Mahlobo said South Africa recognised the role of nuclear power in ensuring security of energy supply and meeting the challenge of climate change and promoted an energy mix of coal, gas, renewables and nuclear.
"Each of these options has their role; some of the energy sources are intermittent supply, while others, such as nuclear and coal, are base-load supply," he said. "South Africa has made a policy decision to pursue nuclear energy as part of the energy mix and recognise the role of nuclear as a base-load source of energy in ensuring security of supply and climate change mitigation," he added.
The two-unit Koeberg nuclear power plant provides about 6% of South Africa's energy mix, he noted. South Africa's Integrated Resource Plan for 2010-2030 calls for construction of 9600 MWe of new nuclear capacity - supplying 23% of the country's electricity - to come on line by 2030.
Mahlobo welcomed a recent decision by the country's Department of Environmental Affairs to authorise utility Eskom's Final Environmental Impact Report for a new nuclear power plant at Duynefontein, next to the existing Koeberg plant.
"We welcome this decision as it allows for a public participation process which we believe will propel the country towards the fulfilment of the government policy position on an all-inclusive energy mix," he said.
"Being a developing country, our key driver to our policy decision for nuclear power is the economics of the energy source. Currently Koeberg is one of our lowest cost electricity sources, and generation III nuclear power plants remain a good economic choice for South Africa. Generation IV nuclear power plants promise improved economics and South Africa looks forward to deploying such advanced energy systems for its development," he said.
South Africa is one of the founding members of the GIF, an international task force founded in 2001 to develop and design the next generation of nuclear energy systems. Mahlobo said the country is focusing on "readily deployable technologies" to address its electricity needs as coal-fired power plants are decommissioned. Although South Africa's own Generation IV-type reactor project, the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor, was placed in care and maintenance in 2010 "we remain interested to still deploy such technology in the future", he said.
Prior to the cabinet reshuffle, Mahlobo served as minister of state security.
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