September 2, 2015 / 12:58 PM / 4 years ago

UPDATE 1-S.Africa may expand nuclear power to cut reliance on coal

* Govt nuclear expansion plan could be even bigger

* Most of power from polluting coal-fired plants

* South Africa facing electricity crunch (Adds government comment)

By Peroshni Govender

JOHANNESBURG, Sept 2 (Reuters) - South Africa’s future energy mix could have an even higher share of nuclear power than the planned 9,600 megawatts (MW), as it aims to cut reliance on polluting coal-fired power stations, a government official said on Wednesday.

Africa’s most advanced economy is facing a shortfall in electricity due to its creaking coal-fired plants, resulting in regular power cuts that are hurting the economy and denting investor confidence.

“We are looking at all possibilities to meet our objectives. It’s not a predetermined outcome that we will have a nuclear programme in a particular quantity and timing and so on,” Ompi Aphane, deputy director general of energy policy and planning told Reuters.

South Africa’s power utility Eskom relies on coal generation for 90 percent of the country’s power and the government is seeking alternatives to mitigate carbon emission.

It plans to invest in renewable and gas energy as well as nuclear reactors to generate 9,600 MW by 2030.

Analysts have estimated the atomic programme could cost as much as $100 billion, making it the country’s biggest ever infrastructure project.

However, Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson has said neither the price nor the contractor had been determined.

Opposition parties have expressed concern about the cost and that agreements to build the nuclear plants could be made without proper public scrutiny.

Aphane said the Treasury is working on a funding model and will look at the “fiscal impact and risk to the economy” the planned nuclear expansion could pose.

“You have to take into account the reality today, that we have a very tight fiscal environment. The extent to which you can rely on the national treasury to fund projects is not what it was five years ago,” Aphane said.

It is not clear when the Treasury will release its funding estimates but the government said it expects the first 1,000 MW of atomic power to come online in eight years time.

China, France, Russia, the United States and South Korea, as well as Japan and Canada, have all expressed interest in the project and have signed or are close to signing cooperation deals with South Africa on trade and technology exchange. (Editing by James Macharia, Editing by Louise Heavens)

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