Our Burning Planet


Alarm bells ring over multibillion-rand nuclear power station plan for Durban

Alarm bells ring over multibillion-rand nuclear power station plan for Durban
From left: African Energy Chamber chairman NJ Ayuk . (Photo: Wikipedia) | eThekwini Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart) | Rawpixel

Leading environmentalist Bobby Peek described the nuclear power option as ‘ludicrous’, arguing that the city’s plan — along with allied proposals for gas, coal and waste incineration — aimed to tie the country into unaffordable nuclear or fossil fuel energy plans.

Durban municipal leaders are hoping to install a giant 940MW nuclear power station in the city as part of a public-private sector partnership plan to reduce the city’s dependence on the Eskom national power grid, eThekwini Municipal Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda announced on Tuesday.

A nuclear plant of this capacity is roughly half the size of Eskom’s 1,940MW Koeberg nuclear power plant, 30km north of Cape Town, which was set up nearly 40 years ago.

Details remain sketchy, but the controversial proposal to build a nuclear plant in Africa’s largest port city is likely to eclipse Kaunda’s announcement that the city hopes to reduce its reliance on the Eskom national grid by 20% by 2025; by 40% by 2030 and ultimately achieve 100% energy independence by 2035.

Opening the Energy Transformation Summit at Durban’s International Convention Centre, Kaunda also announced short-term plans to build a new 400MW coal-fired power station; a new gas import terminal in Durban harbour; a 300MW gas-to-power plant and a smaller 100MW solar PV plant.

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He hoped the new solar and gas plants would be running by 2025 and 2026, respectively. All these proposals formed part of the city’s Municipal Independent Power Producer Procurement (MIPPP) Programme, which aimed to attract around R325-billion in investment by 2035.

On the Durban nuclear proposal, Kaunda said: “In the medium to long term, we are planning to procure an additional 2,600MW of new generation capacity to adequately boost regional transformation. eThekwini Municipality will start new procurement of 50MW waste-to-energy, 300MW offshore wind and 940MW of nuclear power in the new financial year (July 2023).”

There have been whisperings about a Durban-based nuclear power station for some time, with the old Durban International Airport in Prospecton mooted as a possible site.

After his announcement, Our Burning Planet asked the mayor if he was prepared to elaborate on the timelines, funding sources and location of the proposed nuclear power station.

Kaunda did not answer directly, stating that the city’s strategy was to support private businesses through public-private partnerships. He said the city had identified about 30 sites around the city for a variety of new energy investment projects in terms of eThekwini’s MIPPP, which formed part of a government plan to allow municipalities in good financial standing to procure electricity directly from independent power producers.

In response to our repeated question on whether the intention was to locate the proposed new nuclear plant in Durban, Kaunda simply responded: “Yes.”

In his prepared remarks to the energy summit, Kaunda asserted that: “The city’s energy transition policy was subjected to a rigorous process of public participation as informed by Section 17 of the Municipal Systems Act. Therefore, we are proud to share with you that the vision and strategic targets articulated in the energy transformation policy were formulated in consultation with the public.”

‘No consultation with the public’

But Bobby Peek, director of the groundWork environmental justice group and winner of the international Goldman Environment Prize, asked: “Who did Mayor Kaunda consult? There has been no consultation with the public about eThekwini’s future energy plans. Why were we, and other civil society groups, not consulted?”

Peek described the nuclear power option as “ludicrous”, arguing that the city’s plan — along with allied proposals for gas, coal and waste incineration — aimed to tie the country into unaffordable nuclear or fossil fuel energy plans.

The exclusion of environmental and climate crisis perspectives from the latest proposals was acknowledged, in part, at the opening of the summit by local businessman and KwaZulu-Natal Growth Coalition co-chair Moses Tembe, who stated:

‘No environmentalists’

“There are no environmentalists on the panel. We need to be clear about how we respond to environmentalists [in the context of the electricity State of Disaster]. It’s an elephant in the room…”

But if these climate crises and environmental perspectives had somehow been overlooked, inadvertently, the summit organisers nevertheless gave top billing to the future energy perspectives of the oil and gas industry.

Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe failed to pitch as advertised on the summit programme, but oil and gas industry cheerleader NJ Ayuk gave a rousing presentation in his absence as a keynote speaker.

To the applause of several of the invited delegates, the Cameroon-born head of the African Energy Chamber declared that “as someone who comes from the oil and gas industry” he was very happy to hear about eThekwini’s energy transformation proposals.

“Don’t back down to those who tell you not to use coal… Come from the back to sit at my table… I get attacked by environmentalists all the time, but I’ve got a thick skin… Nobody loves the environment more than we do. But we need to look at everything including the free market… I believe in oil and gas… and coal… and carbon capture and storage.” DM/OBP

Absa OBP

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Thinker and Doer says:

    And this plan is announced, just after declaration of the State of Disaster, and the terms of the regulations seem tailor made to facilitate just these type of projects, and karpowerships. Here we go, right on time, as expected… Thanks DM for highlighting this! Keep digging!

  • William Stucke says:

    Some bold assertions in this article, but no substance, other than quoting an activist.

    Why is a 940MW power station “giant”? It equates to 2 or 3 SMRs.

    Why is the concept of building a nuclear power station “ludicrous”? Has the author any idea how many nuclear power stations are currently being built worldwide?

    On a more general note, the eThekwini Municipality’s ambition to acquire 2,600 MW of independent power, and to wean themselves of Eskom sounds very sensible. Unless, of course, it turns into yet another opportunity for the ANC and its cadres to “eat a little bit”.

    • Kanu Sukha says:

      Maybe your last observation needs to be qualifies with “when is/has it not been” … and thus should be the focus of your observations. It may explain why this ‘throw away’ observation is tucked in at the end !

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Judging from past experience, one can only be nervous when BEE comrades start talking “nuclear” “projects” and “opportunity”. One wonders what “mafia faction “ is operating here to once again rob taxpayers of their contributions!

  • Alan Watkins says:

    the Karpowerships project was 1220MW over 3 ships. Divide by 3 =307MW. The announced plan was for 300MW. Connect the dots. The Karpowership deal is about to be announced.

    All the state of disaster regulations will do is enable corruption.

    After all the publicity about corruption over the last 10 years including State Capture Commission, the latest revelations about Eskom, is this corruption the last desperate kicks of a dying horse before it is sent to the knackers trying to make a buck before the taps are closed, or an eff you, nobody can touch us, there will never be accountability and consequences, attitude?

    • Jane Crankshaw says:

      Thank you for pointing this out Alan… I have to agree with you that this is probably another Turkish invasion!
      Apart from ADR’s advice that the Karadeniz Powership proposal is “dodgy”. I have done a bit of my own research….
      – Turkey’s own Energy needs do not rely on Nuclear. Their biggest contributor is (34%) Natural Gas – 88% of which is imported from Russia, Arab Nations, Indonesia and Africa
      – Karpowerships apparently operate on Gas Turbines/Diesel&Gas engines/boilers/ Nuclear reactors, so whichever is used, if they are to be used in SA, Russia and or the illicit Diesel Cartels will be making money, no doubt with backhanders to the facilitators!
      – The stats that the Karpowership(25 ships in 15 locations) VS Wikipedia( 13 power ships in 8 locations) put out are conflicting which raises ethical questions.
      – Pakistan appear to be the first to use Karpowerships – their partnership begun in 2011 ended in tears after a payment dispute where Pakistan stopped paying and were sued for $800m for loss of earnings, interest etc – a case won by Karpowerships after a “dodgy” and protracted court case.

      Should the ANC decide to go ahead with this Energy alternative there is plenty of room for the politically connected to make themselves money and plenty of opportunities to rob the exhausted taxpayer yet again.
      I’m just a concerned taxpayer who is tired of being ripped off so openly, and this is just my opinion.

    • Graeme de Villiers says:

      But if one of the ships is destined for Richards Bay, isn’t Durban too far away for a potential link? I agree with your assumption/suspicion completely, I would like to understand how they would get away with a docked ship AND the nuclear and gas projects further down the coast?

  • Nos Feratu says:

    Another cadre with plenty of old socks to smoke.

  • Johan Buys says:

    We should all make it clear to any parties domestic or foreign that facilitate this, that they must understand what happens when their deals are set aside – as many have been already despite Disaster of State regulations.

    The US, UK, EU (and local) financiers will lose their exposure because they will have been warned in advance.

  • Average Joe says:

    Three things the African National Corruption (ANC) should never be allowed to handle on behalf of patriotic South African people: Finance, Governance & Nuclear Power. It will be a “eThekwininobyl” nuclear disaster. These Tendercrats cannot even supply electricity. Now these incompetents want to go nuclear? Given our grey listed, presidential, apartheid blaming, money-laundering, morally evil & corrupt world beating track record, in the future there will be a massive nuclear disaster for sure in Durban. 5th world South Africa needs an economical and technological backwards feet on the ground solution. Maybe hookup up treadmills to the Eskom grid and get those lazy, overpaid, corrupt comrade Ministers to jog 4 hrs a day on the treadmills to generate the required electricity.

  • Lisbeth Scalabrini says:

    How come that renewables are not even considered by politicians? South Africa is perfect for plants of renewable energy, be it sun, wind or water and much cheaper. Apart from taking ages to build, nuclear is dangerous, expensive and a lot of expertise is required and when eventually it would be ready, ESKOM will probably be dead and buried.

  • Deon Botha-Richards says:

    It’s ironic that environmentalists immediately dismiss nuclear. It is the cleanest, safest and makes use of the least natural resources of all power generation types. It also has the lowest lifetime CO2 emissions. And let’s not forget the goal of the environmentalists is CO2 reduction.

    If the plan is to buy nuclear power from an independent producer there’s no risk of corruption. Nersa will set the tariffs.

    Nuclear, apart from being the cleanest and safest is the most reliable.

    It must form part of any long term plan. Small reactors close to consumers is the best option.

  • Rob Gillespie says:

    Nothing wrong with the plan;
    Justifiable – Most definitely YES
    Affordable – Yes, considering the alternatives
    To be a Government project – Most definitely NOT
    To be a Municipal project – Most definitely NOT
    To be anything BEEE related – Most definitely NOT
    Power Ship involvement – Most definitely NOT
    To be quoted / designed / developed / built / run / managed by Competent, Tried and Trusted, Transparent, Economical, Key Business Partnerships with Proven 1st world experience
    Local public ratification and approval through local Honestly voted in Independent Committees using eg IEC structures – NO Municipal or Government involvement
    Environmentalists to calm down and consider the alternatives

    Bottom line – Start thinking, doing, and acting positively. Move forward positively and decisively. Forget about left / right wing / historical prejudices.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    We must understand one thing,any developments in whatever field is about self enrichment, they care jack shit about us.

  • Friedemann Essrich says:

    The NNR’s standards and guidelines for the establishment of a nuclear power plant are very high and strictly applied. It takes years to just compile the studies required for a site license application, and many more years to address all aspects that may not comply with SA’s and international regulations. It is unrealistic to expect nuclear power to resolve the current electricity crisis.

    • Mike Schroeder says:

      Unless of course someone declares a National State of Disaster around energy that allows many if not all regulations to be bypassed …

      Ah wait, didn’t that just happen?

  • steve woodhall says:

    I was on the team that did the Biodiversity Due Diligence for the mooted Dig-out Port at the old Durban Airport. The potential harm to biodiversity sank it. We also learned that the land there is unstable alluvial soil over recent, poorly consolidated Quaternary rocks. It’s an artificial site created by dumping thousands of M3 of rubble into a marshy estuary. The only way to reuse it would have been to dig out all the unstable soil and rubble back to bedrock – the Dig-out Port would have done this, but it would have had to be constantly dredged to keep it from silting up. The old airport was constantly suffering from Avgas leaks caused by buried fuel lines rupturing. The runways lacked the structural integrity to handle super-jumbos like the A380. Building any kind of power plant there is likely to be a disaster in the waiting, let alone a nuclear one. It would be a Fukushima waiting to happen,

    • Johan Buys says:

      No Steve: Per regulation 7(a)eleventy of Kopdoek’s Disaster of State regulations, unstable substructures shall henceforth be stable.

  • James Francis says:

    My guess is that consultants are making a lot of money selling hopeless ambitions. Besides, we all know this will explode into another orgy or corrupt partners and total under-delivery. These plans are not to power SA, they are to line the ANC and its cronies’ pockets.

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