Nuclear a reliable energy source for S.Africa - CNBC Africa

Nuclear a reliable energy source for S.Africa

Southern Africa

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Majola says that once Medupi comes online, this doesn't mean that the challenges are over. PHOTO:

“We have been using nuclear energy for over 30 years in this country. It’s our most reliable energy source right now, it’s our cheapest and it’s a source of energy that, I think, we’ve developed a lot of expertise around,” she said.

“Around the nuclear debate, we lose sight on some of the key things. South Africa produces and exports isotopes for medicinal use to the world. It’s really unfortunate that we never get to hear about some of the users of nuclear in that sphere, and we shouldn’t lose sight of the important role that plays.”

Majola, speaking at the Women in Energy conference, currently taking place in South Africa, also believes that the country is very capable in the area of nuclear safety.

“In terms of looking at issues of safety, how we have managed to ensure the safe utilisation of nuclear for power generation is what gives us confidence that this should also be one of those energy mixes that we use. It’s also much friendlier than coal to our environment,” she explained.

(READ MORE: S.Africa must embrace nuclear energy development)

“If you compare nuclear and coal, nobody talks about how much coal you have to buy for the next 30 years and what the costs of that will be, which is different from renewables, for instance, and nuclear. Those are debates that I’m hoping that forums like this will be having and discussing.”

The deputy minister also emphasised that South Africa, which is currently experiencing serious electricity challenges, has an integrated resource plan and must ensure that it furthers this plan.

“We are all aware that quite a bit of our generation capacity within Eskom is reaching its retirement age. Renewables have come in strongly but it’s difficult to use them as base-load, especially for the kind of industries we have in South Africa, which are quite energy-intensive,” Majola indicated.

“Another important source of energy for us is the importation of hydro. One of the projects that I’ve been given responsibility for is the development of The Grand Inga so I have been in and out of the DRC in the last few days. I’m looking forward to proving the sceptics wrong – it will be done.”

Much has been said about the need for additional capacity as well as delays regarding the first unit of Medupi power station.

(WATCH VIDEO: Medupi deadline extended by 6 weeks)

However, Majola stated that one of the country’s main priorities at the moment should be to ensure that Eskom as a whole is run as sustainably as possible.       

“The issues around Medupi and Kusile have brought into sharp focus some of the capacity we lost over the years when we were not in the build process. An impression has been created that once Medupi and Kusile come [online], our challenges are over. It isn’t – we need that additional capacity,” she said.

“The main focus for the ‘war room’ right now is around assisting Eskom to deal with the issue of system maintenance. If we do this maintenance then we are going to have power challenges. We’d rather have some of those power challenges but do the maintenance properly – that’s what will make the business sustainable.”