South Africa consults with industry on nuclear power plans

JOHANNESBURG, June 14 (Reuters) - South Africa’s energy ministry on Sunday began consultations with industry on preparations for a proposed 2,500 megawatt (MW) nuclear power plant building programme, which has faced opposition from environmental campaigners.

South Africa wants to supplement its power capacity because of problems at state utility Eskom’s fleet of coal-fired power plants, some of which will be decommissioned over the next two decades.

The energy ministry aims to use the consultation process - known as a Request for Information - to get some idea of the cost, possible ownership structures, cost recovery, the end-user cost and sustainability of the nuclear programme, it said in a statement.

“Given the long lead-time of building additional new nuclear capacity, upfront planning is necessary for security of energy supply to society into the future,” the energy ministry said.

Earthlife Africa Johannesburg and the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute earlier this month wrote to the energy minister threatening to take legal action if he moved to build new nuclear power plants without proper consultation.

Three years ago, the same groups succeeded in persuading a court to block a nuclear power agreement with Russia, signed under then-president Jacob Zuma.

South Africa, which operates the continent’s only nuclear power plant near Cape Town, said last month that it planned to procure 2,500MW of new nuclear capacity by 2024.

South Africa’s long-term energy plan, released in October, listed nuclear power as an option in the longer term or in case a long-delayed hydropower project in the Democratic Republic of Congo does not materialise.

South African officials have previously talked about nuclear power as being part of an “energy mix” that also includes renewable sources like wind and solar as well as coal, on which the country currently relies for more than 80% of its power generation. (Reporting by Tanisha Heiberg. Editing by Jane Merriman)