New plant laid aside

Marcia Klein

Marcia Klein

The Department of Minerals and Energy has thrown into doubt the expected roll-out of a multibillion rand nuclear energy power plant in South Africa.

Eskom confirmed yesterday that it remained on course to announce, before the end of the year, the winner of the bid to build South Africa's second nuclear power plant after Koeberg. But it appears that government may have other plans.

Tseliso Maqubela, acting deputy director-general at the Department of Minerals and Energy, said South Africa needed to review plans for a nuclear power plant in the light of the current economic climate.

"To say that we can proceed with the nuclear plant built the way we had envisioned would be misleading. All our plans will have to be re-looked at and we will have to come to a happy medium. We will have to prioritise," he said.

Areva of France and the US-based Westinghouse are the two bidders for the plant. This forms part of a huge expansion programme to get South Africa's inadequate power infrastructure back on course.

Nuclear plants are expensive to build, but then do not have to rely on coal to keep running.

Eskom spokesman Fani Zulu said yesterday that "the commercial process has been running and is still on course to be completed by the end of the year".

He said Maqubela was not commenting on the commercial process, but "making observations on the impact of the global financial crisis" on the energy sector.

Maqubela said that re-prioritisation did not mean a change of policy, but said it would be difficult to see how the country could afford the nuclear plant now.

A decision on the nuclear bid will be made by year-end, and this will be to either give the contract to build the plant to one of the two bidders, or to delay the plant.

"The decision has to be made by the Eskom board and Eskom has to advise the government. We need advice on how to proceed."

Maqubela added, however, that "there is no doubt that (nuclear power) is going to form a significant part of our energy means going forward." - With Reuters