South Africa is ready for nuclear new build

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23 July 2015

It was ready to support South Africa’s nuclear new build programme using its existing capacities, the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) told Parliament’s portfolio committee on energy yesterday.

The committee was undertaking an oversight visit to Necsa’s Pelindaba facilities, in Tshwane. Chief executive officer Phumzile Tshelane said Necsa possessed nuclear standard manufacturing capabilities, and listed its recent achievements.

It had exported nuclear reaction chambers to Russia and had supplied products to other international clients such as France’s Areva and Alstom. The state-owned company also manufactured components for the Medupi and Kusile coal-fired power stations.

Tshelane said that Necsa would support localisation as part of ensuring that the new build programme resulted in the development of a nuclear industry in South Africa. Necsa also ran an acclaimed Learning Academy from which engineers, artisans and other technically skilled personnel graduated each year.

“We are proud of the contribution we are making already in developing critical skills for South Africa, which will also be relevant to the new build programme,” he said.

In response to a question on the costs of the new build, the Necsa chief brushed aside the R1-trillion figure, saying it was unrealistic in global comparison.

Supply of nuclear fuel

Necsa had also undertaken feasibility studies on the production and supply of nuclear fuel to the envisaged fleet of nuclear reactors to be procured by South Africa. This would ensure that the country was self-sufficient and did not depend for nuclear fuel supplies on the few current global suppliers.

The company is a key player and a global leader in nuclear medicine, exporting life- saving medical isotopes to more than 60 countries.

During the visit, committee members toured the Necsa site, the training and manufacturing facilities, as well as the nuclear medicine and the fluorine plants. The visit, said the committee, was primarily to study what happened at Phelindaba, and to assess if Necsa was ready for the new nuclear build programme.

The government needed to speak openly about the nuclear build programme, it stressed.

“Government needs to engage the country on the positive and negative aspects of the build programme,” said committee chairman Fikile Majola. “Issues of confidentiality need to be explained where they exist.”

Transparency needed

The committee was of the view that the country needed to have a discussion on the procurement process of the nuclear build programme. Members of Parliament needed to engage with relevant stakeholders, said Majola. “We need to remove the secrecy surrounding the build programme and have a public discourse on the issue.”

The members welcomed the localisation aspect included in the nuclear build programme, saying this would create employment opportunities and would contribute to skills development.

Parliament needed to find a mechanism of a co-ordinated approach that would bring committees together to deal with and focus on the nuclear build programme, said Majola.

On the visit, the committee was impressed by the medical products produced by Necsa’s NTP division, particularly those used to detect cancer. It encouraged the corporation to find ways to roll out this product in deep rural areas where people often did not go for cancer screening.

Today, the committee is at MegaWatt Park, Eskom’s headquarters, where discussions will focus on challenges facing the electricity supplier.

SAinfo reporter