The Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa (Niasa) will be holding a convention in Port Elizabeth in August.
My role in the convention is that I am involved with the programme arrangement and the selection of speakers.
The South African government has committed to adding another 9 600 MW nuclear electricity generating capacity to the South African grid. This translates into about three power stations at three different sites around the southern coastline. One of the identified sites is at a place called Thuyspunt, near Port Elizabeth.
Depending on the configuration of the power stations themselves, we are talking of constructing up to about ten large nuclear reactors. This is a major undertaking and involves a great deal of money.
A very sensible government standpoint, which has evolved out of all this, is that a major proportion of this money must stay in South Africa. I agree entirely with this approach.
The Niasa conference has the overall theme of localisation and the empowerment of local industry, large and small.
There is a public fear – or maybe we should call it a ‘wonderment’ – about constructing nuclear power plants in South Africa. I find it surprising how many people seem to think that nuclear plant construction is somehow too complex for South Africans to tackle. This is not at all true.
It is possible to aim for 50% local content on the first nuclear plant and something like three quarters by the third nuclear power station.
The whole country has to pull together on this, and that is a prime reason for taking the Niasa convention to Port Elizabeth. The Eastern Cape region should also get into nuclear construction and fabrication.
I must emphasise that I am talking of a close and mutually beneficial collaboration with international partners. Let me make a comparison with South Africa’s construction and the export of cars. We export a large number of international brand-name cars. These cars are designed by the German, Japanese or American brand-name owners, and South Africa then has to build them according to the brand owner’s specifications. This is important because the brand name is at stake.
However, the cars are built by South Africans and contain South African fabricated parts, as well as imported parts. The nuclear power plant construction must follow the same sort of path.
So, what do I mean by ‘empowering’ local industry? Well, most of a nuclear plant is not nuclear. It consists of pumps, pipes, valves, electric circuitry and so on. So, there are many companies already carrying out such work that do not realise that they could get into the nuclear business.
The ‘wonderment’ linked to nuclear construction seems to scare many people away. The ‘empowerment’ entails encouraging many companies to step forward and present their skills, and then to find out what they can do to help achieve the 50% local content benchmark that I mention.
But now comes a word of warning – nuclear construction and fabrication have to be carried out to a high degree of quality and consistency and involve a long-term commitment to staying in the business.
This requires companies to positively decide to adopt a nuclear frame of mind. This is similar to the car industry and to other industries, such as pharmaceuticals and aerospace, where the culture is a necessary component of success. So, prospective entrants into the nuclear business need to find out about nuclear quality requirements. This will be dealt with at the conference.
Note that potential players do not need to be large. Small companies which can carry out consistent high-precision work can get into the game.
So, all comers, large and small, including those who may never have had any link to nuclear, are encouraged to come to the Port Elizabeth convention. It will consist of a two-day conference, on August 14 and 15, followed by a one-day networking event on August 16, which will start with a comprehensive tour of the Coega development, arranged by the Coega folks. The conference venue is The Boardwalk, in Port Elizabeth, so delegates can walk to the beach if they like.
Speakers include South African Nuclear Energy Corporation CEO Phumzile Tshelane and John Bendo, from New York, who is head of business development at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, known generally as the ASME, from where a major nuclear quality construction code, called ASMEIII, is derived. Other diverse national and international folks are also on the agenda. Department of Energy director-general Nelisiwe Magubane will also be speaking.
The convention has a lot of networking opportunities built into it, for people to voice their opinions and to meet others. South Africa will build these nuclear reactors and they will have local content of all sorts. Money has been budgeted and significant government people have made it very clear that the project is going ahead with speed now. The industrial community has to now come forward and project its competence and confidence.
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