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Private companies to invest in nuclear plants

Koeberg “’ South Africa’s
only existing nuclear
power plant
Johannesburg, South Africa — ESI-AFRICA.COM — 27 October 2010 – The government of South Africa “’ battling a power shortage after halting the expansion plans of state utility Eskom Holdings Limited “’will complete laws next year to allow private companies to invest in planned nuclear plants.

“The government’s policy on atomic-power investment may be completed between March and June 2011,” deputy director general of the Department of Public Enterprises Chris Forlee said here in an interview with Bloomberg News. “There is no other option “’ the private sector will have to be involved,” he added.

South Africa plans to build six nuclear plants to deal with the energy shortfall, with the first delivering power in 2023. The government previously sought to convince privately owned companies to build fossil-fuel-fired power plants, and its failure led to a five-day shutdown of most mines in the country in early 2008.

“Private companies are currently excluded from investing in nuclear energy,” director-general of the Department of Energy Nelisiwe Magubane confirmed in an interview here. “The policies being drafted will define who can buy and sell power and build capacity,” she stated.

South Africa plans to introduce 1 600MW of nuclear electricity into its grid in 2023, and to add a further five atomic plants at the rate of one a year until 2029, except in 2027. Eskom, which supplies about 95% of the country’s power, will begin to decommission large coal-fired plants in 2022, according to the draft plan.

“People forget about the plants Eskom will decommission,” Forlee said. “Some 30 000MW of power will be needed in the 30 years following the current 20-year plan, and nuclear reactors are likely to be the preferred source,” he added. About 6 % of the country’s electricity is currently generated at Eskom’s Koeberg atomic plant.

“South Africa will have to leverage off the balance sheets of the private sector,” Forlee said. “Eskom does not have the money, and the government doesn’t have the money, to invest in nuclear generators.”

The procurement of nuclear technologies will need to begin in 2012 and will probably take as long as a year, according to Forlee. “Building the first plant may take as long as 10 years from the start of the environmental approval process to the introduction of power to the grid,” he said in a presentation.

“The greatest threat to those timelines will be public resistance to the use of the technology,” he continued, adding that getting support “is going to be very tough.”