JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa will push ahead with its nuclear expansion plan but will now do so at a slower pace, as weak economic growth means there is less demand for power, Energy Minister David Mahlobo said on Thursday.
South Africa has the continent’s only nuclear power station and is seeking to expand its nuclear, wind, solar and coal power capacity in the coming decades.
Energy analysts have said the plan for 9.6 gigawatt (GW) of new nuclear capacity was ambitious on timescale and unnecessary, while opponents of President Jacob Zuma raised concerns about a lack of transparency in a deal which could cost the country tens of billions of dollars.
Nuclear reactor makers including Russia’s Rosatom, South Korea’s Kepco, France’s EDF, Toshiba-owned Westinghouse and China’s CGN are expected to bid for the project.
“Pursuing nuclear, for me it’s not a story. The energy ministry will proceed. If you want to invest in nuclear, there are opportunities,” Mahlobo told reporters at an energy conference outside Johannesburg.
“What is changing is the scale, the volumes, we will no longer do 9.6 when you ask about nuclear. It has come down.”
Mahlobo, a Zuma loyalist who took on the energy portfolio after an abrupt cabinet reshuffle in October, said the South African cabinet had approved on Wednesday a revised Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), which outlined the country’s energy plans.
He said the share of power that South Africa wanted to be generated from nuclear, coal, gas and renewables had not changed in the new IRP but that the document envisaged less new capacity being built for all energy sources.
“The economy is not in good shape. We are all cognisant, that’s why we chose a mantra: pace, scale, affordability and environmental responsiveness,” Mahlobo said.
Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba said recently that the state budget could not afford to build new nuclear plants but that the project was not “off the agenda”.
Mahlobo, formerly state security minister, did not disclose on Thursday how much capacity South Africa would aim to add to its nuclear fleet, saying only that it wanted to increase nuclear’s share in the energy mix from 5 percent to 20 percent.
Asked by Reuters for clarification, Mahlobo said he would give more detail on the nuclear plans next year.
“Next year is for implementation,” he said, adding that South Africa would focus on the Western and Eastern Cape regions when building new nuclear plants.
Koeberg, the country’s existing nuclear plant, is located near Cape Town, on the Western Cape.
In October South Africa’s department of environmental affairs granted authorization for state-owned power utility Eskom to build a new 4 GW nuclear plant in the Western Cape.
Mahlobo told Reuters that when Zuma appointed him energy minister, he was told it was a “priority portfolio”.
Editing by James Macharia and David Evans