South Africa to Shift from Coal to Nuclear

The South African government aims to repurpose South Africa’s coal fleet into nuclear energy as part of a step to move away from harmful fossil fuels during the next 30 years.  

The government’s national infrastructure plan 2050 includes the proposal published by public works and Infrastructure minister Patricia De Lille last Friday.  

“Reliance on coal will be reduced big time and the dependence on renewable energy lifted in a fast way, especially in wind and solar, where South Africa has a big advantage,” it said.  

“Government will take into consideration both retrofitting and repurposing the baseload coal fleet with innovative and advanced baseload nuclear energy systems that can be deployed inland which delivers an opportunity for reskilling and retention of the existing coal workforce.”  

It is worth mentioning that the country has been dependent on electricity from coal-fired power stations for too long. Eskom delivers this electricity as a vertically integrated monopoly.  

In 2010, 87 percent of 254 TWh of South Africa’s power was coal-fired, while the annual electricity production was 3.5 percent less, at 245 TWh by 2019, with coal accounting for 79 percent and renewables for 12 percent.  

Also, the twin units of the Koeberg nuclear power plant provide almost 1,800MW and 5 percent of the total energy and give strength to the nationwide electricity grid. 

Therefore, about one-third of the 18,000 MW of new generation capability dedicated to the national Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 2010 was from renewable energy independent power producers (IPPs) – with only half of that operational by 2020.  

It is worth mentioning that the function of nuclear energy in acquiring net-zero emission goals cannot be overemphasized.   

Obviously, in some countries of the G20 that have Paris Agreement compatible plans and are deploying eagerly or regarding ramping as the share of nuclear in the energy mix such as Canada and France (operating about 58 nuclear power plants), the government said.  

“When noticing that there is no economy of the world that can be powered fully from renewables, there is room for co-existence of baseload energy source like nuclear and renewables in hybrid energy systems wherein the baseload energy source would kick in to fill the demand /supply curve when intermittent renewables are not available,” the government added.  

The government said that the energy sector globally is experiencing the fastest rate of technological change and innovation ever in history, with significant growth in private participation at all value chain stages. 

Nevertheless, some reports state that the markets are expressive of lower expenses of clean nuclear energy, introducing Small Modular Reactors. This is a game-changer in future energy planning as the last reactors could also be used in hybrid systems for industrial process heat, hydrogen production, and water desalination. 

“There is an appetite in the South African public and private sectors to leverage these opportunities for a course correction,” according to the government. 

The authoritative power envisages that, by 2050, the dependence on coal will be reduced and reliance on renewable power will be lifted dramatically, especially wind and solar, which play a prevailing function as part of a least-cost energy mix and where South Africa has a significant advantage.