South Africa should remain in control of its planned multibillion-rand nuclear build project by doing the project management itself, says Dr Kelvin Kemm, CEO of Nuclear Africa.
Kemm is a nuclear physicist and member of Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson’s energy advisory committee. Nuclear Africa is a consultancy focused on the localisation of the nuclear programme and developing an export market for South African-made nuclear components and assemblies. It has also advised all the potential bidders, government and private companies that want to get involved in the project.
“We can switch on in 2023 if we have good project management,” he says.
He argues South Africa is capable of controlling and managing the development of its proposed 9 600MW nuclear programme in collaboration with an outside partner.
“We build Mercedes Benz cars in East London. We didn’t do the design, but we bring the components in and assemble it here. We should look at the same pattern (for the nuclear build projects).”
He says this project does not have to be like Eskom’s Medupi power station – which is billions of rands over budget and years behind schedule after Eskom took the project management upon itself.
Kemm agrees that the project management at Medupi was problematic, adding that labour issues caused further delays and disruptions.
To this end, it is essential that workers should buy into the nuclear programme and have pride in their work, he says.
It is not yet clear who will be in charge of the project, but he would support a decision to create a specific agency to manage the project.
Kemm says outside the nuclear island a nuclear power station does not differ that much from a conventional power station. There are civil works, pipes, electronics, and so forth – all things South Africans are capable of constructing.
The exact format of the procurement process and resulting contract or contracts has not yet been disclosed by the Department of Energy (which is running the process), but Kemm believes a turnkey project has been ruled out.
He says the first decision is whose design we want to use. “Are we going to build a Mercedes or an Audi?” so to speak.
South Africa has framework agreements with Russia, China, Japan, the US, France and South Korea that pave the way for the procurement process. This award is expected to be made before the end of the year.
According to Kemm the current leaders in nuclear reactors are the US Westinghouse AP1 000 and the Russian VVER 1 000 or 1 200, he says. The Chinese also build a variant of the Westinghouse AP1 000, known as the CAP 1 4000.
The reactor does not necessarily determine the whole project, he says. “We can apply our own specs to their design, and build it according to our own high standards.”
This first decision is a principle decision, he says. It does not determine “the thickness of each plate”. That is done thereafter, “as we go”. A lot of subsequent, smaller tenders will follow for other components of the power stations.
Kemm says collaboration will be necessary to ensure the best use of resources and to that end companies may have to request exemption from the Competition Act. He says the big construction companies are ready to participate in the nuclear programme, but their efforts need to be coordinated to ensure efficiency.
South Africa is aiming for 50% localisation, which includes the development of a local industry that manufactures components and exports them internationally.
This is definitely viable, says Kemm. Twenty-one African countries have already notified the International Atomic Agency (IAA) of their intention to start with a nuclear programme and ten have started. There is however a lead-time of about six years to set up a regulator and get the legislative framework in place, he says.
“South Africa is one of the oldest nuclear countries. We know the whole chain and Necsa (the Nuclear Energy Corporation of SA) has been exporting nuclear fuel components to South Korea for the past year.” South Africa can therefore export components to these prospective nuclear countries on the continent and elsewhere in the world.
He says in the international nuclear industry South Africa is a model of compliance with the Safari reactor at Pelindaba recently celebrating its 50th year. This positions it well for the further development of its nuclear industry.
“It is only the casting of very large elements that we cannot do in South Africa.”
He says many manufacturing companies are technically up to the required standard to participate in this programme, but their record-keeping is lacking. Nuclear regulations are very strict with regard to specifications and record-keeping. This is however a state of mind and can be achieved if “everybody, down to the lowest level, takes pride in the fact that they manufacture nuclear compliant parts,” Kemm says.
He says the biggest challenge for South Africa is the shortage of people, especially at an artisan level, like welders, machinists, tool-makers and electronic technicians. They don’t need matric, but have to be meticulous and do their work with integrity, he says.
Kemm says preparations have been made over the past five years to prepare the proposed sites for the nuclear programme.
The Department of Environmental Affairs is expected to give its record of decision (RoD) on three possible nuclear sites shortly. These are Thyspunt near Jeffreys Bay in the Eastern Cape, Bantamsklip near Cape Agulhas and the existing Koeberg site north of Cape Town.
The RoD will release the site to the Department of Energy to take a final decision of where the project or projects will be located.