Nuclear energy in South Africa

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Koeberg Nuclear Power Station

South Africa is the only country in Africa with a commercial nuclear power plant.[1]

Two reactors located at the Koeberg nuclear power station accounts for around 5% of South Africa's electricity production.[2] Spent fuel is disposed of at Vaalputs Radioactive Waste Disposal Facility in the Northern Cape.

The SAFARI-1 tank in pool[3] research reactor is located at the Pelindaba nuclear research centre in Gauteng.

New build[edit]

Koeberg in red with the other potential nuclear sites in blue

The 2010 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) envisages building 9,600 MWe of new nuclear power capacity by building between six and eight new nuclear reactors by 2030, which would cost about R1 trillion.[4][5] Five countries, South Korea, France, Russia, US, and China have bid to supply the reactors. As of 2015, Russia's Rosatom and Chinese companies are the front runners to supply new nuclear plants due to their commitments to finance the builds.[6][7][8]

In 2008 Max Lee, CEO of Eskom, announced Eskom plans to build 20 GW of nuclear power by 2025, the first station of which could be completed by 2017.[9] However, the investment decision to go ahead with this was not made.[10] Until 2010, South Africa had an expansion policy based upon the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) but government financing was withdrawn because of missed deadlines and lack of customers.[2][10] Several groups, including Earthlife Africa and Koeberg Alert, had opposed these plans.

In 2016, an updated draft IRP was published which set a much lower and slower nuclear target, due to lower demand projections and increased capital cost. This updated IRP envisaged that the first new nuclear power plant would only need to be online by 2041.[2] Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson said that nuclear is non-negotiable for SA because the country lacks adequate water to support coal-fired power generation.[11] However, some energy experts believe that South Africa does not need the extra energy that a new nuclear power plant would generate but can and should make use of on renewables such as solar and wind, of which South Africa is well positioned to take advantage.[8][12][13]


There has been much concern about the cost of the endeavour, as well as the possibility for corruption, due to the lack of transparency in the procurement processes and the disregard of civic society.[8][14] President Jacob Zuma nevertheless pushed ahead with plans to secure nuclear power.[15]


Following the Public Protector's "State of Capture" report, which implicated him and Jacob Zuma in the peddling of state patronage, Brian Molefe resigned from his position as executive chief of Eskom on 1 January, 2017. However, analysts noted that corruption at Eksom was deep-rooted and that Molefe's resignation would not resolve the nuclear question.[16] In April, 2017, Eskom requested that the Treasury department waive procurement regulations for the new nuclear plants, claiming that Eskom "had done a lot of the work prior" and that these efforts were adequate. The Democratic Alliance objected on the grounds that this would embark the state on its "single biggest public procurement without fully assessing associated risks and consequences for SA’s economy".[15]

On 26 April, 2017, following a legal application by Earthlife Africa and the Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute, the Western Cape High Court declared that the South African government's new nuclear procurement processes had been unlawful because they had not followed due processes. The court noted that the National Energy Regulator, Parliament, and the Energy Minister must all be involved in the process. All of the subsequent existing contracts with Russia, the US, and South Korea were therefore found to be void.[17][18][19]


The R1 trillion cost of the new nuclear project has played a part in ratings downgrades by international credit ratings agencies.[15]

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, who opposed new nuclear on the grounds of its steep cost, was replaced by Malusi Gigaba in March, 2017.[13] Gigaba is responsible for filling the vacancy of chief procurement officer at Treasury, which would make decisions about procurement processes regarding the new nuclear project.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hinshaw, Drew. "Africa looks to nuclear power". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 6 October 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c "Nuclear Power in South Africa". Retrieved 12 April 2015. 
  3. ^ Vlok, JWH. "REACTOR OPERATIONS AT SAFARI-1" (PDF). Manager: Reactor Operations SAFARI-1 Research Reactor NECSA. Retrieved 2008-12-04. 
  4. ^ "Anti nuclear activist sheds light on SA, Russia deal". eNCA. 2015-08-23. Retrieved 2017-04-28. 
  5. ^ Lionel Faull (23 March 2012). "South Africa's nightmare nuclear bill". Mail & Guardian Online. Retrieved 23 March 2012. 
  6. ^ "Russia's Rosatom denies securing SA's nuclear deal". eNCA. 2015-07-15. Retrieved 2017-04-28. 
  7. ^ Peroshni Govender (12 February 2016). "Russia, China front runners in South Africa's nuclear project-source". Reuters. Retrieved 13 February 2016. 
  8. ^ a b c "South Africa slows nuclear power expansion plans". Reuters. 22 November 2016. Retrieved 22 November 2016. 
  9. ^ "South Africa announces plans to build 20 GW of nuclear capacity by 2025". Power Engineering International. PennWell Corporation. 10 January 2008. Retrieved 23 March 2012. 
  10. ^ a b "Nuclear Power in South Africa". World Nuclear Association. December 2011. Retrieved 23 March 2012. 
  11. ^ "Joemat-Pettersson says nuclear is nonnegotiable due to water shortages". 17 February 2016. Retrieved 22 November 2016. 
  12. ^ "New nuclear energy to come on stream by 2037, under latest plans". Retrieved 22 November 2016. 
  13. ^ a b "South Africa's controversial nuclear power plans". Deutsche Welle. 7 April 2017. Retrieved 8 April 2017. 
  14. ^ Ensor, Linda (21 April 2017). "Power utility Eskom will seek waivers on nuclear rules". BusinessDay. South Africa. Retrieved 21 April 2017. 
  15. ^ a b c d Ensor, Linda (2017-04-21). "Power utility Eskom will seek waivers on nuclear rules". Business Day. Retrieved 2017-04-28. 
  16. ^ Pather, Ra'eesa (2016-11-11). "Brian Molefe resigns from Eskom". The M&G Online. Retrieved 2017-04-28. 
  17. ^ "Western Cape High Court declared that government's nuclear procurement processes to date have been unlawful". 2017-04-26. Retrieved 2017-04-28. 
  18. ^ "Nuclear deal decision: Parliamentary process not followed". 2017-04-27. Retrieved 2017-04-28. 
  19. ^ Ensor, Linda (2017-04-26). "Back to square one for Eskom as judge sets nuclear decisions aside". Business Day. Retrieved 2017-04-28.