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The 2014 World Nuclear Industry Status Report states that there are 388 reactors in operation globally, with an installed generation capacity of 332,548MWe and an average age of approximately 29 years. With this in mind, ESI Africa editor Nicolette Pombo-van Zyl caught up with the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation’s chief executive officer, Phumzile Tshelane.

Is nuclear energy a viable generation option to pursue?

What makes any new build programme viable is a sound implementation model as well as the funding model that supports it. For example, in South Africa, what would enhance the business case for the nuclear build programme is if it is coupled with a Nuclear Fuel Cycle.

South Africa has a feasible business case for the latter. Obviously the challenge with nuclear is the higher capital costs and lead times in comparison to other technologies. However, this is offset by lower Lifecycle Costs and virtually non-existent emissions (if you were to put a cost to this as well).

What were the deciding factors for the 9,600MW of nuclear new build in South Africa?

• To have a sustainable and reliable base-load, which is important for security of electricity supply.
• The multiplier effect of a nuclear programme.
• 9,600MW translated into a fleet of roughly 10 reactors. For the nuclear new build programme to be viable you need to implement a fleet (it’s a question of economies of scale).

In ESI Africa’s African Power Elites: Projects and People publication, you predicted that in 2015 there would potentially be a “procurement decision for the next nuclear power station”. Is this still the case?

The Minister of Energy, the Honourable Ms Joemat-Pettersson, announced in the 2015/16 Policy and Budget Speech that the nuclear procurement process would commence in the second quarter of this financial year with the selection of a Strategic Partner or Partners, with the outcome of this process expected to be announced by the end of the financial year. The business model for the re-establishment of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle would also be completed.

So far, there doesn’t seem to be a stumbling block in this process. Recall that the outlined process, which included the Vendor Parade process, has now been concluded.

What are the skills that will be needed for the new build to be successful?

In South Africa, we already have a good skills base created and maintained through the existence of nuclear infrastructure at Necsa, Koeberg and iThemba LABS, as well as skills and capability created through the PBMR. We have had programmes previously, like SANHARP and ARECSA, that developed high-level skills that are now being utilised in the sector.

One of the Working Groups of the Energy Ministerial Committee has worked on a skills development strategy in anticipation of the nuclear new build. Furthermore, the draft Nuclear Energy Research Development and Innovation Strategy (NERDIS) is supportive of the human capital development.

Therefore, the skills required and that are being developed cut across the skills pyramid (artisans, technicians, technologists, scientists and engineers across all disciplines). Do you foresee any challenges with the new nuclear build deadlines in bringing the additional generation capacity online? So far, the process has been very intensive, with Working Groups hard…..

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