Future of Nuclear Energy in South Africa

Sam Pfeil
June 12, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018


Fig. 1: Koeborg Nuclear Power Plant (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

As a developing country, South Africa faces a need to invest in energy infrastructure to ensure there is a large enough supply of energy in the future. With the current state of affairs, South Africa plans to turn to nuclear power, along with coal, gas, and renewable energy resources to meet its electricity needs. [1] The major driver of policy regarding South Africa's energy future is economic. Climate change poses a challenge to ensuring future energy supply for the country and the whole continent of Africa.

Future Energy Supply

By 2030, South Africa plans to reduce its reliance on coal from 90% to 48%. [2] In their effort to do so, they plan to increase nuclear power from 5% to 13% of the country's total power supply. [2] From an environmental standpoint, nuclear power is less harmful on the environment than coal. Nuclear power does still have its drawbacks, like the problem of storing nuclear waste. When looking at the decision from a coal versus nuclear standpoint, the decision to pursue nuclear power mitigates climate change. South Africa has also explored using nuclear energy in the fields of medicine and nuclear weaponry. [2]

Future Energy Policy

As of 2017, the Koeborg nuclear power plant accounted for approximately 5% of South Africa's energy supply. Koeborg's two reactors are shown in Fig. 1. By 2030, there are plans to increase nuclear capacity by 9600 MWe, which will expand the current nuclear share beyond 5% in the future. [3] The plant currently supplies 2000 megawatts to the national grid. [4] South Africa already has nuclear capacity, so they are aware of its costs when considering alternatives. Although nuclear power has high upfront costs, it is a cheap energy source when looking at lifetime production. Additionally, the unit operating costs of nuclear energy are low relative to other sources of energy. [4] To ensure a sound energy plan for the future, South Africa needs to ensure energy security, access to affordable energy for everyone, and environmental sustainability. [3] Nuclear energy ensures energy equity due to its low cost and energy security from the large amounts of power it provides. Nuclear power is also a sustainable way to produce electricity. South Africa has recognized nuclear power as an option that will help ensure the energy future.

© Sam Pfeil. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] A. Winning, "South Africa to Scale Down Nuclear Expansion Plan: Energy Minister," Reuters, 7 Dec 17.

[2] B. Knox, "South Africa Nuclear," Physics 241 Stanford University, Winter 2017.

[3] D. Thomas "Going Nuclear: Africa's Energy Future?," African Business Magazine, 31 Jan 17.

[4] "Exclusive Interview with Des Muller, NuEnergy Developments," ESI Africa, 2 Mar 18.