Nuclear: South Africa; Battle of the nuclear giants.

Position:Special Report: Energy in Africa
 
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While price, reliability, ease of operation, speed of construction, safety, minimum maintenance, cost-effective running and such are all critical elements in the tender for South Africa's new nuclear power stations, bidders are padding their submissions with the ways each would grow the local nuclear industry in skills, technology and manufacture.

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Westinghouse's regional vice-president South Africa, Rita Bowser, says she has spent a lot of time "kicking the tyres" in South African foundries and pipe-makers to test levels of competency and product and she's been "pleasantly surprised" at what she's found.

Serge le Forge, local head of Areva, the competing French nuclear energy company, is also racing ahead with the implementation of localisation plans and empowerment acquisition.

This is not simply marble-polishing, they insist, but a sensible and important contribution to the South African nuclear sector. Both have good reason for saying so because they already have significant nuclear interests in the country.

Westinghouse has a sizeable foot in the door with its involvement in the development of South Africa's Pebble Bed nuclear technology. (See box)

Areva, on the other hand, was instrumental 35 years ago in building South Africa's only current nuclear facility at Koeberg, a few kilometres north of Cape Town. The company is still responsible for the station's maintenance.

Now Westinghouse and Areva are going head-to-head to see who wins the tender to build the country's Generation 3 facility of 3,500MW at an estimated cost of $6bn and, perhaps, a further five in various parts of the country taking the spend on nuclear new build in South Africa to around $40bn between now and 2025, by which time the government wants nuclear to be generating at least half of the additional 40,000MW it will need to sustain itself economically. Both Westinghouse and Areva met the 30th January 2008 deadline for submissions and now await the outcome of Eskom's initial scrutiny of the bids.

Formal negotiations, euphemistically referred to as 'pencil sharpening', were due to start on 25 February. Thereafter a recommendation as to the preferred nuclear vendor will be submitted to the board of Eskom, South Africa's government-owned energy monopoly, for approval during June this year. Also in the offing is the possibility of "a limited notice to proceed" for the preferred bidder, giving it time to start processes to secure some of the...

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