South Africa needs to develop nuclear power plant operators: cadets

AUGUST 28, 2015

The critical need for South Africa to develop its nuclear power plant operations knowledge was reiterated last week by a group of delegates returning from the South African Civil Nuclear Energy Training Programme (SACNET), held in China earlier this year.

The four cadets were speaking at a debriefing session with representatives from Coega Development Corporation (CDC), Department of Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEDEAT) and Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality (NMBM) on Friday last week.

They and two other delegates from the Eastern Cape were among a group of 50 selected by government to participate in the four-month long programme, in preparation for the imminent procurement of the nuclear-build programme. This is on the back of the cooperation agreements between South Africa and China, which led to the establishment of a human capital development partnership between the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa (NECSA) and its Chinese counterpart, the State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation (SNPTC).

Delegates were selected from the CDC and other major role players in the industry. Training took place at China’s top Shanghai Jiao Tong and Tsinghua universities, and included lectures by industry experts as well as tours to two nuclear power facilities: Sanmen, in Zhejiang province, and the Haiyang, in Shandong province, each of which houses two 1250 MW units, with capacity for six to eight more. South Africa’s programme aims to add 9 600 MW of capacity to the national grid.

Training encompassed capabilities and technologies in areas of nuclear power plant engineering, procurement, manufacturing, construction, commissioning, operation, maintenance and project management.

The four trainees who addressed the CDC included Ziphozakhe Williams, an intern in the CDC energy sector unit, Isaya Gxekwa, a former CDC energy intern, Zenande Nombakuse, an intern at DEDEAT and Sizinzo Majola, a former graduate trainee of the NMBM’s electricity unit.

Williams said the training had increased her appetite to grow in the nuclear field. “Weekly experts lectured us on various technologies; what stood out for me was when they told us about the Gen4 modular reactor. They also hammered home the importance of safety and quality, looking at the possibilities of what could go wrong in the design of every nuclear power plant and taking lessons learnt from major accidents,” she said.

Majola said even though the course was not easy, he had learned a lot. He was impressed with the Chinese government’s role in supporting universities with funding for nuclear studies.

Gxekwa added that “There is still time for the Eastern Cape to make a difference. We can start now to pull on the skills of people studying at university and work on a plan to retain skills. This must be the starting point. The hunger to implement change is there.”

Nombakuse believes that adequate skills are needed in the sector if the country wanted to see the opportunities in the nuclear sector.

Christopher Mashigo, CDC business development executive manager, said the cadets should see their roles as beyond just receiving training. “The course afforded the cadets an opportunity be part of answering some of the country’s big questions,” he said.

In July, the CDC welcomed the signing of a nuclear memorandum of cooperation between South Africa and Russia, with a specific focus on Skills development for the South African nuclear power industry and Enhancement of Public Awareness of Nuclear Energy.

Thyspunt, 80 km from the Coega IDZ, is earmarked as a likely location for the first nuclear fleet of the planned 9.6 GW Nuclear Power Programme. Government has made it clear that public awareness and skills development are two key points for the successful implementation of the Nuclear Readiness Programme in order to support the development of Thyspunt.

Sandisiwe Ncemane, CDC energy sector business unit manager, said the organisation plans to register its cadets to participate in phase two of the nuclear programme. The second phase will include more specialised training, and on-the-job training, which will take place either in South Africa or China.