History of South African Nuclear Power

Requir Van der Merwe
March 18, 2019

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018

Origins of Nuclear Energy Development

Fig. 1: Koeberg Nuclear Power Plant in South Africa. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

South Africa currently obtains the only nuclear plant, Koeberg Nuclear power plant, in the continent of Africa. The power plant is one of the many sources of energy the government has made use of in attempt to solve the countys electricity needs. [1] The country has frequently been battling power cuts or load shedding, which calls for scheduled electricity blackouts in sections due to high energy demands. [2] The construction of the Koeberg Plant began in 1976 and is located on the west coast near Melkbosstrand, 30km north of Cape Town, shown in Fig. 1. [1] Koeberg contains two large turbine generators, each delivering 970 MW [gross] and can deliver 930 MW [net] to the grid. It was built upon an aseismic raft designed and can withstand a magnitude 7 earthquake.

Electricity Shortages

Electricity consumption in South Africa has rapidly been growing since 1980, with 80% of consumption being powered by large coal plants. [3] With the shortages of electricity in the country, there has been much debate on the future of the countrys energy sources. The government has proposed to build 7-8 new nuclear plants, costing around 1 trillion Rands, as a possible option for new electricity power after the scheduled construction of two major coal power stations have been experiencing constant delays and spiraled cost of double the original estimate. [3] Some of the benefits of nuclear power plants include clean energy source, as they dont emit any greenhouse gasses and the utilization of uranium as raw material for the fission reaction in nuclear plants. [4] South Africa has an abundant amount of uranium mines, located near the power plants, making it a good advocate for nuclear plants. [5] Nuclear power plants also deliver more electricity than any of the other energy sources.

Other Energy Options

The 7-8 nuclear power plant plan has faced a lot of drawback due to its high cost and long completion time. There has also been much suspicion of corruption around the project due to the lack oftransparencyin the procurement processes and the disregard of civic society. [1] The riskiness and many potential pitfalls of the nuclear power plants causes many to believe alternative energy sources are the solutions. Wind and solar energy plants have been estimated to be able to cover 50% of the shortfall of energy and continued price decline of solar panels makes this a very viable option. [2]

Moving Forward

The future of energy sources continues to be left in the air. The corruption and high cost causes many to be vary of the nuclear plant option, although Gwede Mantashe, ANC secretary, points out that "in comparison to how much is spent on running coal-powered stations, [the] overall cost of nuclear energy makes nuclear a viable option". [5] Eskom, owner of the Koeberg Nuclear power plant, recently stated that they cannot afford the build of the new nuclear plants, but the government stated that it would proceed at a slower pace. [1] Yet, many expertise still argue that South Africa is well positioned to take advantage of the solar and wind energy and dont need the nuclear power plants. [2] The nuclear plans are currently in effect and serve as a strong option for the future of energy and economic growth for the country.

© Requir Van der Merwe. 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] M. Schwikowski, "South Africa's Controversial Nuclear Power Plans," Deutsche Welle, 7 Apr 17.

[2] H. Winkler, "Why South Africa Should Not Build Eight New Nuclear Power Stations," Johannesburg Mail and Guardian, 5 Nov 15.

[3]"Annual Report 2016-2017," Department of Energy, Republic of South Africa, 2017.

[4] "Uranium," British Geological Survey, March 2010.

[5] B. Comby, "The Benefits of Nuclear Energy," Association of Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy, 21 May 06.