South Africa will not adopt a “big bang” approach to building new nuclear power capacity but instead add capacity in an affordable way, Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe said on Tuesday.
Former South African president Jacob Zuma championed a massive nuclear expansion project with Russia, but his successor Cyril Ramaphosa put those plans on hold in one of his first moves after becoming leader of the governing African National Congress (ANC) in late 2017.
Economists say a large-scale nuclear new build is something South Africa, whose last investment-grade credit rating is hanging by a thread, can ill afford.
“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… Go modular, go at a pace and price that the country can afford,” Mantashe told reporters.
“The fact that we suspected corruption (in the previously floated Russia deal) doesn’t mean that nuclear is irrelevant for the country in 2019.”
Mantashe would not give a timeline for any new nuclear capacity, saying the government’s energy plan would need to be approved first.
That plan, called the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), has been held up for months by discussions with business and labor, but the minister said he hoped the IRP would be taken to cabinet for approval in the next two to three weeks.
Mantashe said the IRP contained provision for “modular nuclear technology”, saying nuclear would compete with other power sources to replace energy capacity which will be decommissioned in the medium to long term.