The devastating events in Japan over the past week have dominated the news headlines all over the world.
First came Japan’s most powerful earthquake since records began, then followed the tsunami triggered by the 8.9 magnitude tremor that wiped out whole towns on the north-east coast.
However the concerns about radioactivity after reactors at a nuclear power plant exploded is the latest worry – and could even prompt a U-turn on proposals to build new plants to increase nuclear supply in South Africa.
South Africa currently operate the only nuclear plant in the continent near Cape Town and wants to construct six new 1,600 megawatt plants to increase the percentage of nuclear energy in its supply to 14 percent by 2030.
The country’s Energy Minister Dipuo Peters said: “It has a bearing in the way in which we make decisions, in the way in which we make policies but also in the way we construct nuclear power plants.”
“I believe that as a country we need to be alive to what is happening in that part of the world,” he added.
The government is currently debating a new energy resource plan to outline South Africa’s energy mix in the next 20 years and Peters was speaking at the Africa Utilities Week in Cape Town.
The increased nuclear output is being cited as a possible solution to the kind of power shortages South Africa experienced in 2008, causing chaos and a loss of billions to industries when demand outweighed supply.
But the Japan crisis has led to safety fears over nuclear activity and Chief Executive of the nation’s energy supplier Eskom, Brian Dames, admitted that there are lessons to be learnt from the tragedy.
“We are looking at how to draw lessons out of what has happened in Japan in terms of design and safety systems,” said Dames, adding that nuclear power was still a crucial element in energy supply.
“Nuclear, as an energy option must play a role in terms of meeting not only South Africa’s energy needs but also global energy needs,” said Dames.
The recent events in Japan will have an impact on South Africa’s nuclear power plant proposals.
This was inevitable given the seriousness and uniqueness of the earthquake-tsunami damage in Japan. Can’t fault South African officials for taking precaution.