Nuclear Energy in South Africa

Tesay Yusuf
March 16, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018


Fig. 1: Koeberg nuclear power plant in Cape Town, South Africa. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

South Africa was the world's first example of a "state which [had] unilaterally and voluntarily relinquished nuclear weapons". [1] Although there undoubtedly were racist undertones that informed the decision as the Apartheid state was bracing itself to relinquish its power to an ANC government, South Africa was championed for being the only example of a nation that turned around a developed nuclear program. The decision helped normalize South Africas international relations during a time where many nations had cut off ties with the Apartheid government, and when the question of South Africas nuclear proliferation was being closely scrutinized. [1]

Nuclear Energy

South Africa's energy consumption and economy are relatively high compared to the country's GDP/economic counterparts. Over the last 10-15 years, there seems to have been a significant amount of attention paid both in the intellectual realm and within the South African government to energy sustainability and the path forward. The South African government has implemented many iterations of the Integrated Energy Plan to balance the competing need for continued economic growth with its social needs and the protection of the natural environment. [2]

Fig. 2: Share of rimary Energy Supply. [4] (Source: T. Yusuf)

South Africa is the only country on the African continent that has existing nuclear energy reactors. [5] Fig. 1 shows power being carried from Koeberg nuclear power plant in Cape Town, South Africa. The countrys ability to develop nuclear energy and capacity to expand the program could be linked back to its past nuclear proliferation in the 1970s. As of 2015, nuclear energy made up 2.2 percent of South African energy supply (Fig. 2). With that being said, the South African government has invested significant funds both public and from Eskomin the development of [nuclear] technology, as an alternative form of energy. [3] In 2010, South Africa had a plan to work towards reaching a capacity of at least 9600 MW. [3]

Scale Back

South Africa did not meet a portion of its energy goals in the 2016-2017 fiscal year, and underspent on its developmental plans particularly in the nuclear realm. [3] Outside of energy specifically, the overall South African economy also did not grow as much as projected in that fiscal year. As such, the economic growth outlook [has] been revised downwards and the goal of a nuclear capacity of 9600 MW is being relaxed in order for it to be conducted in a manner that poses the least cost to the energy system. [3] For a nation whose vision was centred on processes that will create a nuclear industry so as to catapult South Africa into the top echelons of the knowledge economy, this setback is certainly a blow. [3] It brings into question whether forward growth for the environment and energy sector should come at a cost to the overall economy, and how much economic growth should determine how much effort the government will put towards nuclear and other energy sectors in the future. Can it be viewed as a future benefit that comes with a necessary present cost?

© Tesay Yusuf. 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] J. W. de Villiers, R. Jardine, and M. Reiss, "Why South Africa Gave up the Bomb," Foreign Aff. 72, No. 5, 98 (1993).

[2] H. Winkler, "Energy Policies for Sustainable Development in South Africa," Energy Sustain. Dev. 11, 26 (2007).

[3] "Annual Report 2016/17," Department of Energy, Republic of South Africa, 2017.

[4] "BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2017," British Petroleum, June 2017.

[5] P. Kalambayi, "Nuclear Energy in South Africa," Physics 241 Stanford University, Winter 2016.