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S.Africa to push ahead with nuclear plans

Published on 26/05/2011

Energy-hungry South Africa said Thursday it would not abandon plans to scale up nuclear power despite the meltdown in March at the Fukushima plant in Japan.

The state wants to ramp up nuclear sources to 20 percent of electricity capacity to help break the country’s massive reliance on coal and boost its ageing power grid that led to widespread blackouts in early 2008.

"The nuclear transaction needs to be commenced well in time so that we can commission the power by 2023," Minister Dipuo Peters said in her budget speech to parliament on Thursday.

South Africa plans to build 9,600 megawatts of new nuclear capacity in the next two decades.

"We still believe that to mitigate against greenhouse gases, nuclear is going to play a very important role. However we are going to factor in the lessons learned from Fukushima," energy director general Nelisiwe Magubane told AFP.

The country’s new power project guidelines were given the nod five days after Japan’s deadly March tsunami, which forced a global re-think on nuclear power after damage to the Fukushima plant’s cooling systems triggered the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl 25 years ago.

"For us the accident at Fukushima has happened at a time that makes it possible for South Africa to factor the appropriate lessons into the design of our nuclear power programme, and to take advantage of experiences from other countries," Peters said.

Stress tests are to be developed for the country’s only existing nuclear plant, Koeberg in Cape Town, while officials say the country is receiving constant updates from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on lessons from Fukushima.

The new electricity mix calls for renewable energy to account for nine percent of power generation and cuts coal’s share from 90 percent to 65 percent.

The targets are part of the government’s electricity master plan, which will underpin South Africa’s power generation for the next 20 years.