SA called for France-China nuclear bid

The government has allegedly urged French and Chinese nuclear companies eyeing what promises to be South Africa’s largest state contract to date to put in a joint bid for the construction of new nuclear power stations — casting doubt on the impartiality of the tender process.

The energy department has denied offering such advice.

According to Reuters, Électricité de France (EDF) senior vice-president Hervé Machenaud said last week that the South African government had told the company and the Chinese to bid together for the construction of the plants.

The government has not announced the parameters of the contract, estimated to be worth between R400-billion and R1-trillion, or called for bids.

But Energy Minister Dipuo Peters submitted a proposal to Cabinet for approval in September and the tender process is expected to start later this year.


France, represented by its nuclear reactor vendor, Areva, and its electricity utility, EDF, has been diligently building bridges with South African stakeholders, including the labour movement.

Geopolitical reasons

But for geopolitical reasons the South Africans would be keen to cut in the China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group.

Rival bidders include the Japanese-owned, United States-based Westinghouse as well as South Korea’s Kepco and Russia’s Rosatom.

In his former capacity as EDF’s executive vice-president for Asia, Machenaud spearheaded the nearly completed installation of two French nuclear reactors at Taishan, China, in partnership with China Guangdong.

Machenaud’s claim is the first formal admission of a possible joint France-China bid, although a Mail & Guardian report in October cited a number of unnamed government and industry sources who indicated that such a partnership was on the cards.

Sources suggested that the combination of French nuclear expertise and Chinese financial muscle would make a joint bid politically unassailable.

But the energy department distanced itself from Machenaud’s claim. “We are not aware of any encouragement made from our side to EDF,” said department spokesperson Thandiwe Maimane.

EDF spokesperson Anne-Catherine Hehl declined to reveal which South African official had told the company and China Guangdong to join forces, but confirmed that an approach had been made. “If that is what they [the South African government] want us to do, that is what we will do.”

Open flirtation

Asked whether South Africa’s apparently open flirtation with the French and the Chinese risks compromising the probity of its supposedly impartial nuclear tender process, Maimane said: “I hear you, but I can’t comment.”

Last year Cabinet set up a super-structure, the national nuclear energy executive co-ordination committee, which comprises all the Cabinet ministers whose portfolios intersect with the nuclear roll-out.

South Africa’s nuclear pact with France goes back to the 1970s when France helped build the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station in Cape Town.

Areva also put in a strong bid when South Africa, under then-president Thabo Mbeki, opened the tender process for new nuclear power stations. In September 2008 Mbeki stepped down as president in the same week Eskom was set to announce the winning bidder.

Eskom cancelled the tender process shortly afterwards, citing a lack of capital, but the French transferred their overtures to President Jacob Zuma.

Zuma has had a string of to-and-fro meetings with the French since 2007.

Growing Chinese influence

As for the Chinese, their influence has grown in step with their country’s burgeoning share of South Africa’s trade. China is now South Africa’s biggest trading partner.

The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China acquired a 20% stake in Standard Bank in 2007, giving the Chinese one possible way to fund the massive nuclear power stations project.

Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe visited China in September last year and sealed a $2.5-billion financial co-operation agreement between the Development Bank of South Africa and the China Development Bank, which could become a second source of nuclear financing.

* Got a tip-off for us about this story? Email [email protected]

The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit initiative to develop investigative journalism in the public interest, produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for all our stories, activities and sources of funding.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Advertising

Subscribers only

Magashule snubs former presidents Mbeki and Motlanthe

Magashule fails to meet former presidents Mbeki and Motlanthe as he runs out of options

‘Suspicious’ tech company EOH must pay back millions

EOH allegedly inflated prices of Microsoft licences, which could have been bought by the defence department for a third of the cost

More top stories

SIU targets 15 in master of high court

As the Special Investigating Unit starts pushing for criminal and disciplinary cases, officials in the master’s offices start revealing crucial evidence

Rhodes Memorial Fire: a week of devastation, loss and heartache

Students, alumni and staff share their memories and thoughts after blaze leaves a path of devastation at the UCT and its Jagger Reading Room

Cape fire devastation reinforces consequences of defence budget cuts

All the available resources from the private sector needed to be exhausted before the Air Force could be called in to assist in dousing in the flames

The perverse irony of the Super League-haunted semi-finals

The welcome ring of the Champions League anthem next week will be tainted by developments off the pitch
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…