Video message by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe at the national nuclear energy conference
29 May 2012
South Africa has over 25 year experience in operating a large nuclear power station. The Koeberg nuclear power station on the Cape west coast has been operated extremely well, and in line with international standards.
The operation of such a nuclear power plant encompasses not only the people on the site itself, but also a significant number of others such as repair and maintenance teams, the nuclear regulatory people, and also the people working at the national nuclear waste repository at Vaalputs in the Northern Cape.
It is because of these various activities that over the last quarter of a century South Africa has developed the complex overall systems required to competently operate and maintain a large nuclear power plant.
However South Africa’s nuclear history goes back much further than that, it actually goes back to the mid 1940s, a period of over 60 years. This makes South Africa one of the oldest nuclear countries in the world. We have a long proud history in the field of nuclear science.
During all of this time our nuclear scientists, engineers and other nuclear support staff have built up a very sound level of competence in dealing with a very wide range of nuclear matters. South Africa can be proud of its nuclear achievements. South Africa now possesses a sound base of nuclear competence.
The government has committed itself to constructing an additional 9 600 Mega Watts of nuclear power, to deliver much needed electricity into the South African electricity grid. This decision constitutes a significant amount of nuclear power to be added to the national electricity supply.
Coal will remain the mainstay of South Africa’s electricity supply, because we are blessed with vast coal deposits, and because we have developed a major coal infrastructure for our electricity supply.
However most of our coal, and therefore our coal fired electricity generation, is clustered in the north eastern part of the country, which results in the requirement for very long high voltage electricity supply lines being necessary to transport the electricity across vast stretches of our country. This scenario is strategically unwise over the longer term.
The government has a stated intent of increasing total electricity supply considerably, to satisfy the needs of our country’s growing demands. In striving for this goal, it is strategically sensible not to produce nearly all of our electricity only in the area of the major coalfields.
We need to produce electricity in other parts of the country, to spread the electricity production points around the national grid. This is a strategically sensible approach which requires us to use other energy sources in addition to coal.
Nuclear power is ideal in this sense, because we can build large nuclear power plants at points around our southern coastline, and potentially elsewhere in the future. Nuclear power plant construction is a major undertaking, which will bring significant economic benefits to local industry.
South African industry has shown itself to be highly competent in the construction of our major coal fired power stations.
Our industrial operations, which are related to these areas of development, not only construct and fabricate assemblies for local application, but also export internationally.
There is every reason to have confidence in the belief that South African industry can play a major role in the construction and fabrication of nuclear power plants.
In fact it is desirable that South African industry place itself in the position to be able to export nuclear power components internationally.
The world nuclear construction family is a reasonably close knit community, and South Africa has the recognised ability to become a well-established member of this community. To pursue this endeavour, South African companies will have to forge international partnerships. The early formation of such international linkages should be encouraged.
Nuclear construction and fabrication requires a particularly high standard of manufacturing quality, which in itself is a challenge. In numbers of other areas of technological advancement South African industry has shown itself capable of working to the required quality standards.
However, nuclear construction and fabrication also requires detailed technological record keeping, related to the quality assurance process. Such records have to be stored for decades.
Companies wishing to gain entry into nuclear power construction should ensure that they acquire the necessary quality assurance culture and practise at an early stage.
Such a quality assurance culture links directly to the consideration of nuclear power safety, and consequent public confidence in all related activities.
South Africa possesses a well-established system of nuclear facility operations. This includes construction and process licensing, nuclear construction and fabrication regulation, health and safety monitoring, and the training of the required skilled personnel. All of this is directly linked to general safety considerations.
Nuclear safety assurance is most important for public acceptance of the nuclear power industry. Our good record in this respect should be maintained and enhanced as a primary foundation of the industry.
Nuclear technology expertise in South Africa is far wider than nuclear power only. We as a country are a world leader in the export of nuclear pharmaceuticals for medical use, exporting to some 60 countries. Nuclear analytical processes are used constantly in industry, in agriculture and elsewhere.
Our nuclear professionals, across the board, must communicate and interact with applicable sections of industry, to bring them into the nuclear construction and fabrication sphere. The many aspects of the construction of nuclear power plants are a case of wide scale collaboration of experts, in a wide diversity of specialist fields.
Our minds are now primarily focussed on the traditional large scale nuclear power plants which require large volumes of cooling water. That is why large nuclear power stations are usually built close to oceans.
However, other new generations of smaller nuclear plants which do not require vast volumes of cooling water, are at various stages of development. Such plants can be sited far inland. Nuclear developers need to study all potential options of combinations of large and small nuclear plants, to satisfy the harsh demands of our African lands.
Together with foreign partners, South Africa certainly has the capability of bringing its significant technological talents together, such that we can forge ahead in the development and construction of nuclear power plants, and also to become an important player in the export of nuclear power components and assemblies.
I thank you!
Issued by: The Presidency
29 May 2012
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