Why South Africa is cancelling plans to expand its nuclear power

PRETORIA (Reuters) – South Africa has cancelled plans to add 9,600 megawatts (MW) of nuclear power by 2030 and will instead aim to add more capacity in natural gas, wind and other energy sources, the energy minister announced on Monday.

Africa’s only nuclear power has an installed capacity of 1,860 MW but plans under the government of former President Jacob Zuma to have six times that output by 2030 hit hurdles over cost and other issues.

There are now “no plans to increase nuclear until 2030,” Energy Minister Jeff Radebe said while releasing the government’s new Integrated Resource Plan (IRP).

The plan also showed that electricity demand on the grid has been declining.

Russian state-owned firm Rosatom was seen as a frontrunner to build the additional nuclear capacity.

Several meetings between Zuma and Russian President Vladimir Putin led to speculation that Rosatom had secured the deal before the launch of the public tender. South Africa’s government and Rosatom denied this claim.

But soon after taking over from Zuma in February, President Cyril Ramaphosa put the nuclear expansion on the back burner saying the plan was too expensive.

In July, Ramaphosa said Putin had raised the subject of a nuclear deal at a private meeting with him at the BRICS summit in Johannesburg but that he had told him that Pretoria could not sign such a deal for now.

Radebe on Monday instead outlined expansion plans targeting other energy sources.

He said the plan calls for additional capacity of 8,100 MW from wind and 8,100 MW from gas, 5,670 MW from photovoltaic panels, 2,500 MW from hydro and 1,000 MW from coal by 2030.

Public comment on the plan is invited for 60 days before final cabinet approval, he said.

Writing by James Macharia; editing by Jason Neely

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