Effective government relations in South and Southern Africa

Deputy President Motlanthe addresses Nuclear Conference
18 March 2013


Keynote Address by the Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa Kgalema Motlanthe at Nuclear Africa 2013 Conference, Midrand, Gauteng Province

18 March 2013

Programme Director, Mr Ayanda Myoli;

Minister of Energy, Ms Dipuo Peters;

CEO of the South Africa Neclear Energy Co-operation (Necsa),   Mr Phumzile Tshelane;

President of the Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa, Dr Rob Adam;

Acting CEO of the National Nuclear Regulator, Mr Thabo Tselane;

Distinguished Guests;

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Thank you for the opportunity to share government's views with the Nuclear Africa 2013 Conference.

Given the needs of our country at this point in history, the importance of the Nuclear Africa 2013 Conference for South Africa development aspirations becomes axiomatic.

Similarly, under-development challenges facing South Africa and the African continent today underscore the need to draw on the best available minds to harness the benefits of nuclear energy to meet the imperatives of our development.

From time immemorial, energy has been the means to sustain life. Without energy social development is simply inconceivable.

More than at any point in our history, energy is assuming increasing importance as the lubricant of our country's development. At the same time, we continue to face peculiar, fundamental development issues.

Against this background of grappling with under-development matters while ensuring economic growth, the need for a clear-minded approach on the critical question of energy becomes all the more important.

Government sees energy as central in meeting basic human needs and improving living standards, in the context of reconstruction and development. Tapping into energy to meet the needs of reconstruction and development is particularly ineluctable in a largely extractive economy such as ours.

Energy is indispensable in the successful implementation of our five strategic development priorities, which are education, health, creation of decent work, combating crime and corruption, rural development and land reform.

Energy is a common thread that runs through all these priority areas. Adequate, affordable, sustainable energy supply is key in achieving these priorities.

Programme Director;

South Africa is an energy-driven economy.   From the onset of industrialisation more than a century ago, the South African economy has revolved around the mineral-energy complex.

For over a century, the mining industry has been central to our development in fundamental ways. It was the bedrock of industrialisation and growth, and still contributes over half of our exports.

South Africa remains the world's largest producer of many minerals, among them chrome, manganese, gold, platinum, vanadium and vermiculite, just to mention a few.

At the core of this mining-driven economy has been the utilisation of coal as the primary energy source for the country. Coal accounts for over 90% of the total electricity generation capacity.

However, it has become crystal clear that coal is not the long term solution for our development needs.

For one thing, most of our coal, and therefore our coal fired electricity generation, is clustered in the north eastern part of the country, which results in the requirement for very long high voltage electricity supply lines being necessary to transmit electricity across vast stretches of our country.  This scenario is strategically unwise over the longer term.

Be that as it may, it is clear that in the medium term coal has a role to play in mitigating our current energy pressures. Therefore coal will remain the mainstay of South Africa's electricity supply.

The risk of load shedding is significant and necessitates steps to realise a range of supply and demand side measures.

To this end our objective to deliver on these energy development imperatives requires short-term interventions to address immediate needs for basic electricity, followed by medium to long-term sustainable and climate friendly energy development.

Nevertheless, coal does not hold out prospects at the level of sustainable development.  For instance, because of our increasing dependence on coal for our economic development our country is ranked among the world's largest emitters of carbon dioxide.

Concerns over increases in the price of coal and global warming, partly as a result of greenhouse gas emissions and other atmospheric pollutants, compel us to move away from over-reliance on coal-fired power generation.

Thus the provisioning of sustainable and clean energy remains part of the over-riding imperative for reducing inequalities and poverty through sustainable socio-economic development. 

As such alongside our objectives to ensure energy security is the need to pursue an appropriate energy mix that includes clean and renewable resources to meet the demands of our economy.

Also, South Africa's electricity generation has to be increased significantly in the next few decades to facilitate economic growth and social progress.

The expansion of energy capacity is the pre-condition for sustainable economic development. We have seen how erratic electricity supply in the form of load shedding can inhibit economic development in various ways.

Therefore the way to go for us is in the long term to become globally competitive in the use of innovative technology for the design, manufacture, and deployment of state of the art nuclear energy systems.

The National Development Plan, which is our blueprint for the next 16 years, states that: "Over the long term, with realistic, bold strategies and global partnerships, South Africa can manage the transition to a low-carbon economy at a pace consistent with government's public pledges, without harming jobs or competitiveness”.

Guided by these generally accepted guiding principles and based on the Integrated Resource Plan, government developed a comprehensive nuclear programme.

I believe Minister Peters earlier on today, has provided you with a clear perspective of the energy sector and the role that will be played by nuclear energy.

Our vision for nuclear energy is in keeping with article IV of the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, which affirms our country's right to research, develop, produce and use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

Government has a stated intent of increasing total electricity supply considerably, to satisfy our country's growing demands.

We need to produce electricity in other parts of the country, to spread the electricity production points around the national grid.  This is a strategically sensible approach which requires us to use other energy sources in addition to coal.

Nuclear power is ideal in this sense, because we can build large nuclear power plants at points around our southern coastline, and potentially elsewhere in the future.  Nuclear power plant construction is a major undertaking which will bring significant economic benefits to local industry. 

South African industry has shown itself to be highly competent in the construction of our major coal fired power stations. There is every reason to have confidence in the belief that South African industry can play a major role in the construction and fabrication of nuclear power plants.

In fact it is desirable that South African industry place itself in the position to be able to export nuclear power components internationally.

The world nuclear construction family is a reasonably close-knit community, and South Africa has the recognised ability to become a well-established member of this community.  To pursue this endeavour, South African companies will have to forge international partnerships. 

The early formation of such international linkages should be encouraged. 

Nuclear construction and fabrication requires a particularly high standard of manufacturing quality, which in itself is a challenge.  In a number of other areas of technological advancement the South African industry has shown itself capable of working to the required quality standards. 

At the same time, I have noted with interest the exchange between nuclear scientists and some members of our society who have voiced concerns about nuclear technology and its applications, especially in the power sector.

Admittedly, the use of nuclear energy technologies to mitigate the impact of greenhouse gases remains controversial and the source of contention on the environment dangers it poses.

To this extent we remain committed to strengthening and investing in research and development of clean energy technologies from a multitude of sources, while conscious to ensure minimal environmental impact and safety of generation methods.

We continue to work in various platforms and multilateral fora to put clean energy on the global agenda including being a signatory to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

We have also enacted environmental protection legislation, which is often touted as too strict and ambitious for a developing country.

Beyond this South Africa has well-established regulatory health and safety standards critical to the management of nuclear systems and facilities.

These measures include regulation on construction, licensing, nuclear construction and fabrication, health and safety monitoring, and the training of the required skilled personnel. 

Nuclear safety assurance and our good record in this respect should be maintained and enhanced as a primary foundation upon which consensus on nuclear electricity generation can emerge.

Such quality assurance is most important in assuring the public of the highest consideration and commitment to nuclear power safety.

Recognising the need for and importance of addressing the pressing social and economic needs we will continue to promote development and security of nuclear energy in order to address some of the development challenges facing our country.

As well, we all need to acknowledge the fact that nuclear power deployment does not only depend on high level decision making, but on the public support that leads to it. The more public support we have, the brighter our future will become through nuclear energy.

It is therefore important that we mobilise South Africans behind this programme. We need to impress upon South Africans the point that nuclear programme has the ability to create infrastructure development, economic mobilisation and skills development.

Further, government has approved the establishment of the National Nuclear Energy Executive Co-ordination Committee (NNEECC). This committee is tasked with making high level recommendations concerning nuclear energy programme to cabinet.

There are many role players to bring on board in our roll out of nuclear energy in the power sector, which includes civil society, business, academia and government. Government is determined to play an instrumental role in this due to the importance of this programme for our country's future.

Programme director;

In conclusion, I would like to argue that history should judge us as a generation that chose to see, "the proverbial shoreline beyond the rough waters ahead”; that comes together, at this cross current of history, to tackle head on the challenges posed by climate change.

I am convinced that this is the first step in a journey of a thousand miles to create an energy sector with little negative effects of climate change.

I wish all of you the best in your deliberations over the next three days and may it be a productive conference that puts us on an elevated path of socio-economic development.

Thank you.