South Africa possesses sound knowledge that makes it competent to run a large nuclear power plant, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe said on Tuesday.
In a video message to the National Nuclear Energy Conference, Motlanthe said the country had over 25 years' experience in operating such a power station.
"South Africa has developed the complex overall systems required to competently operate and maintain a large nuclear power plant. However, South Africa's nuclear history goes back much further than that - it actually goes back to the mid-1940s, a period of over 60 years.
"This makes South Africa one of the oldest nuclear countries in the world. We have a long, proud history in the field of nuclear science," said Motlanthe.
Currently, power parastatal Eskom runs the only nuclear power station in the country, Koeberg, located 30km north of Cape Town.
Government has committed itself to constructing an additional 9 600 Megawatts of nuclear power to add on to the country's electricity grid.
"South Africa now possesses a sound base of nuclear competence," said Motlanthe, adding that coal will remain the mainstay of the country's electricity supply.
Most of the country's coal and electricity generation was clustered in the eastern parts of South Africa, which results in the requirement for very long, high voltage electricity supply lines being necessary to transport the electricity across vast stretches of the country.
"This scenario is strategically unwise over the longer term," said Motlanthe. Need to disperse generations capacity
SA needed to produce electricity in other parts of the country to spread the electricity production points around the national grid.
"This is a strategically sensible approach, which requires us to use other energy sources in addition to coal. Nuclear power is ideal in this sense, because we can build large nuclear power plants at points around our southern coastline, and potentially elsewhere in the future," he noted.
The construction of a nuclear power plant was a major task that would bring economic benefits to local industry, which had shown itself to be competent in the construction of major coal fired power stations.
There was every reason to have confidence in the belief that South African industry could play a major role in the construction and fabrication of nuclear power plants, said Motlanthe.
"In fact, it is desirable that South African industry place itself in the position to be able to export nuclear power components internationally."
He urged local industry to forge international partnerships with companies in the nuclear industry. He called on companies wishing to gain entry into nuclear power construction to ensure that they acquired the necessary quality assurance culture and practise at an early stage.
"South Africa possesses a well-established system of nuclear facility operations. This includes construction and process licensing, nuclear construction and fabrication regulation, health and safety monitoring, and the training of the required skilled personnel. All of this is directly linked to general safety considerations."
Nuclear safety assurance was most important for public acceptance of the nuclear power industry. SA's good record in this respect should be maintained and enhanced as a primary foundation of the industry, stressed the Deputy President.
South Africa is a world leader in the export of nuclear pharmaceuticals for medical use, exporting to some 60 countries. Nuclear analytical processes are used constantly in industry, in agriculture and elsewhere.