Political Discourse Shaping South Africa’s Nuclear Technology Decision

Sections contextualize the main arguments and actors in the discourse networks within the framework of analysis of political factors that favour nuclear programmes, according to Sovacool and Valentine (2012).


Cost is the most controversial issue in the current debate on the nuclear build programme. Both coalitions refer to the cost argument. Thirty-nine statements from the opposition question the affordability of the programme, while the supporters affirm the affordability of the programme. The polarizing debate on costs emerges from the variety of cost estimates available publicly and the lack of cost assessment for the South African programme.

The costs per kilowatt of new build nuclear power vary from different sources and high or low cost scenarios between US$1,500 and US$8,000 (Caetano and Rennkamp 2014; Thomas 2010). Taking the lowest and the highest price estimates for the nuclear build programme of 9.6 GW, prices range between US$14.4 billion and US$76.6 billion. The National Treasury collects annual revenue of roughly ZAR780 billion/US$46 billion.

Delayed scenarios that increase the initial cost estimates are likely in nuclear power plant building, because every plant is innovative. Any changes that engineers need to make in the construction require approval from the national regulator to ensure the safety of the plant. These additional bureaucratic processes often cause delays. Recent nuclear plants built in Flamanville, France, and Olkiluoto, Finland, cost more than twice the originally estimated budget and delayed construction times were over ten years (WNN 2015).

Large public infrastructure works bear additional risk factors. Strikes of highly unionized workers may cause delays. Scarce civil engineering and road infrastructure may cause unforeseen logistical challenges. Both risk factors have caused delays during the construction of the coal-fired plants in Medupi and Kusile (SAPA 2015; Steyn 2015a).

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