By Antonio Ruffini

3 May 2012 – Nuclear power project providers across the world are hoping to participate in South Africa’s nuclear reactor build plans. If the country’s plans go ahead as foreseen, a minimum of R300 billion will be spent on increasing its nuclear capacity by 9,600 MW.

South Africa hosts Africa’s only nuclear power plant, that being the two by 900 MW (1,800 MW) Koeberg power station near Cape Town. Koeberg has been operating since 1984. The country’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) sees it building at least six more reactors at three or four sites by 2030. This will decrease South Africa’s dependence on coal fired electricity, which results in the country being an outlier in terms of the large size of its carbon footprint relative to GDP.

Minister of the Department of Energy Dipuo Peters says, however, that South Africa wants to build up local capacity as it undertakes its nuclear power programme. "It is not just about building power plants, but how we build them."

The ideal is that South Africa will one day export its own nuclear power know-how. This was the ambition of the failed Pebble Bed Modular Reactor project, and while the outcome was demoralising, South Africa’s ambitions of being a nuclear energy technology hub are not totally discarded. To that end Peters says that South Africa is not only looking at building new reactors, but it also wishes to mine more uranium resources and develop a nuclear waste management system.

At the same time she suggests that South Africa’s nuclear energy plans will not be rushed. The companies that were involved in building Koeberg may have an advantage when it comes to involvement in South Africa’s nuclear power capacity build-up because of their long-standing relationships. However, Russian nuclear power providers recently hosted a seminar in South Africa to present their case and Chinese companies will be looking to build their case on the back of its increasing economic ties with South Africa.