NEHAWU statement on the announcement of plans to procure 2500 MEGAWATTS of nuclear power

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union [NEHAWU] welcomes the announcement by Mineral Resources and Energy Minister, Mr Gwede Mantashe, on plans to immediately commence with the procurement process of 2500 megawatts [MW] of nuclear power. The announcement was made during a briefing of parliament’s mineral resources and energy portfolio oversight committee on the 7th May 2020.

As NEHAWU, indeed we agree with the IRP2019 and the announcement by Minister Gwede Mantashe that the 2500 MW nuclear build programme is a no-regret option in the long-term, especially when implemented in the pace and scale that the country can afford. It has always been our position even when we were, through our NECSA Branch, championing the inclusion of nuclear in the energy mix that in light of the expected decommissioning of 24 100 MW of power plants post 2030, nuclear power is a logical clean base load energy source technology which holds economic potential for South Africa, especially taking into account the existing human resource capacity and the skills already existing in the country. The country’s experience with Koeberg nuclear power station, the only nuclear power reactor in the entire continent, has not only demonstrated the reliability of the nuclear technology but the capability of South Africa’s nuclear workforce. 

The announcement by the Minister could not have come at a better time than now as the government is seized with the task of rebuilding the economy that remains under threat as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, technical recession and downgrades. Energy and economic growth are intertwined, hence the announcement is fully supported by the national union.

Koeberg’s Design Life Extension:

It is well known and accepted that Koeberg Power Station will reach its 40 years end of design life in 2024. Therefore, a commitment to see through the plans already on going to extend the design life of Koeberg Power Station by another 20 years is well received. Not only will this extension form part of a bigger scheme of averting the demise of nuclear power in the South African energy plans, it will also safeguard jobs of thousands of nuclear professionals currently working at the Koeberg Power Station and help in avoiding any further increase in the already high levels of unemployment currently sitting at 29% and climbing. Furthermore, the extension of Koeberg Power Station design life must be understood in the bigger context of expanding the nuclear power programme in South Africa’s energy mix going into the future.

Multi-Purpose Reactor:

The targeted procurement of a Multi–Purpose Reactor by 2024 to replace SAFARI-1 Research Reactor is progressive. The national union is in full support of this initiative with an understanding that SAFARI-1, just like Koeberg, is nearing its end of design life. Although there is a possibility of extending SAFARI-1 design life there is a need to begin the process of procuring a new Multi-purpose reactor immediately to pave a way for a smooth phasing out of SAFARI-1 and transitioning to a Multi-Purpose Reactor in a manner that protects South Africa’s market share of radio-isotope production among other research reactor applications and further guarantee the sustainability of Necsa Group beyond SAFARI-1.

Modular Approach at Pace and Scale:

The IRP2019 proposed that the implementation of the nuclear power programme must be at an affordable pace and modular scale compared to a once off fleet of 2500 MW. It is critical, in fact imperative that at this early stage of developing the roadmap for the implementation of the 2500 MW nuclear programme we broaden the meaning of the phrase “Modular Scale”. Our understanding of the Modular Approach does not exclude reactor units such as the 900 MW PWRs in combination with smaller reactor types. All options and combinations should be considered taking into account technological developments in the nuclear space [especially tried and tested rather than First-Of-A-Kind (FOAK) technologies] and testing the markets on these options and combinations to reveal the most robust funding option. A pre-emptive approach without a proper cost benefit analysis [informed by testing the market] that looks at all options and combinations will be self-defeating.

In conclusion, NEHAWU believes that implementation of the provisions of the IRP2019 as announced by Minister Mantashe is progressive and a step in the right direction as it will not only bring policy certainty on government energy plans but also ensure security of electricity supply to an already constrained supply nationally.

The national union will contribute and enrich the roadmap process by releasing position papers in the coming weeks through our NECSA Branch Professional Technical Desk.

Issued by NEHAWU Secretariat

Zola Saphetha (General Secretary) at 082 558 5968; December Mavuso (Deputy General Secretary) at 082 558 5969; Khaya Xaba (NEHAWU National Spokesperson) at 082 455 2500 or email: