South Africa will soon start developing a plan for a new 2,500 megawatt (MW) nuclear power plant, the energy ministry told lawmakers on Thursday.
Africa’s most industrialised economy, which operates the continent’s only nuclear power plant near Cape Town, said last year that it was considering adding more nuclear capacity in the long term, after abandoning in 2018 a massive nuclear expansion championed by former president Jacob Zuma.
Analysts had expressed serious concern about Zuma’s project for a fleet of nuclear plants totalling 9,600 MW because it would have put massive additional strain on public finances at a time of credit rating downgrades.
Its current nuclear plant, Koeberg, has a capacity of around 1,900 MW and was synchronised to the grid in the 1980s.
“The development of the roadmap for the 2,500 MW Nuclear New Build Programme will be commencing soon,” the energy ministry said in a presentation to a parliamentary committee on its plans for 2020-25.
The presentation showed South Africa wanted to complete the procurement of the new nuclear plant by 2024 but gave no indication as to when it wanted construction of the plant to start or for when the plant would come online.
South African officials have 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 it currently relies for more than 80% of its power generation.
But financing those nuclear ambitions could be difficult at a time that the country’s recession-hit economy is being hammered by the coronavirus pandemic, with this year’s budget deficit expected to stretch into double digits.
Answering questions, Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe said on Thursday that the government would first “test the market” and hear what potential investors or consortia had to say about building the new nuclear facility.
“We may even give that company a right to develop a modular nuclear station on a build, operate and transfer basis, which means there may be no immediate call for funding from the state but the build programme can continue,” he said.
“We are going to explore all options, when there is appetite for nuclear in the market we will go ahead with it.”