A nuclear power plant in Biblis Germany Thomas Lohnes, Getty Images

China, South Africa Sign Nuclear Energy Pact

China is competing with other global powers for a $50 billion contract to build nuclear power plants in South Africa, which currently has one station and relies mostly on coal for electricity generation.

JOHANNESBURG — Nuclear energy regulators in South Africa and China have signed a technical cooperation agreement as Africa’s most industrialized economy presses forward with controversial plans to build eight new nuclear reactors. 

The deal, which includes “licensing procedures, vendor inspections, inspector training, and joint inspections and technical support,” was signed last week in Beijing, according to a Monday announcement from South Africa’s National Nuclear Regulator (NNR).

China is competing with Russia, France, the United States and South Korea for the South African nuclear power plant construction program, which is worth up to $50 billion.

“Bilateral cooperation arrangements such as these serve as a valuable mechanism for ensuring that the NNR’s regulatory practices are ... benchmarked against the best current standards and practices as applied internationally within the nuclear industry,” NNR’s chief executive officer Bismark Tyobeka said in a statement.

The two countries signed a nuclear energy cooperation agreement a year ago, which Pretoria said was in preparation for a “possible” utilization of Chinese nuclear technology in the country. Similar agreements have been signed with the other bidders.

South Africa has one nuclear power station but relies heavily on coal for electricity generation.

The new reactors are expected to add 9,600 megawatts — or nearly one- third of the country’s generating capacity of 30,000 MW — with the first unit to be ready in 2023. 

Power shortages have hobbled South Africa’s economic growth, but the plan to expand nuclear energy production has come under fire from critics over environmental concerns and fears that the cost could cripple the economy.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2015

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