Gwede Mantashe nuclear energy

Gwede Mantashe at the the release of the mining charter in 2018. Photo: GCIS / Flickr

South Africa looking into nuclear energy solutions once again

Despite shelving plans back in 2017, nuclear energy is back on the menu for South Africa according to Minister of Energy Gwede Mantashe

Gwede Mantashe nuclear energy

Gwede Mantashe at the the release of the mining charter in 2018. Photo: GCIS / Flickr

Energy minister Gwede Mantashe has revealed that national government is still looking into potential nuclear energy options for Eskom, but reiterated an earlier pledge that it would be done in a sustainable and affordable way.

South Africa’s dark past with nuclear energy

The term nuclear energy has almost become a swear word in South Africa after the drama that unfolded during the tenure of former President Jacob Zuma.

Zuma was a huge supporter of a massive nuclear expansion project with Russia that was widely criticised in the media and by the South African populace for being unrealistic, too expensive, and creating an enviroment that could promote corruption.

The plans were put on hold almost immediately by Cyril Ramaphosa after he won the African National Congress (ANC) presidencial race in late 2017.

This move was aided by a Western Cape High Court decision earlier in 2017 to set aside all nuclear deals involving South Africa, ruling that every deal on the table at that time was both unlawful and unconstitutional.

Government turning to nuclear once again

At the time, it was stated that nuclear was not being taken off the table completely which has been categorically confirmed by Mantashe’s statement.

“It comes back to a resolution we took as a government: not going big bang into nuclear, but going at a pace and price that the country can afford,” he said.

“The fact that we suspected corruption {in previous nuclear deals] doesn’t mean that nuclear is irrelevant for the country in 2019.”

Gwede Mantashe

Hopes to have plan before cabinet within weeks

Mantashe hopes the plan, titled the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), will be tabled before cabinet within the next month. However, it is currently still in the process of negotiations with the private sector and labour unions so it could still be months before the plan is even published.

As a result, there is no time frame or specific plans for any new nuclear builds.

According to the energy minister, it is also not a commitment from government towards nuclear energy but, rather, a commitment not to shut the door on any potential energy options.

He claimed nuclear would have to compete for its place in the South African energy mix just like every other form of power generation.

“You can’t just jump from one extreme to the next one. If you switch off all coal-fired power stations in the hope that you will have renewables you will plunge the country into darkness,” he said.

Gwede Mantashe