Nuclear build to start this year

Eight months after a nuclear deal was signed with Russia the Cabinet is due to finally see that deal next week Wednesday, energy minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson told Parliament on Tuesday.

The Russian deal, and nuclear framework agreements with other countries, will then be presented to Parliament for ratification, Joemat-Pettersson said, without specifying when.

Nor did she specify when the deals will be released to the public. Cabinet can choose to do so, or not, while Parliament has mechanisms to consider agreements in secret should it choose to do so.

But the minister was very clear on when South Africa will start the process of buying new nuclear power stations, expected to cost up to R1-trillion.

“We will commence with the actual nuclear procurement process in the second quarter of this financial year,” Joemat-Pettersson said, as vendor parades have been completed with all countries that had expressed interest in the nuclear build.

In a subtle but notable departure from previous wording, Joemat-Pettersson said the nuclear build would be handled in a “fair, transparent and cost-effective manner”. In his most recent State of the Nation address President Jacob Zuma said the procurement would be by way of “a fair, transparent and competitive procurement process”.

Government-to-government deal
Joemat-Pettersson spoke not at all of competition, or an open tender process, reinforcing expectations that the procurement of new nuclear power stations would be on a government-to-government basis.

In a secret presentation to Cabinet in October 2013 the energy department recommended a closed, government-to-government procurement process for nuclear stations.

It is not clear whether that proposal was ever accepted by the national executive, but another recommendation from the same proposal – that Eskom be excluded from the process and that the energy department take responsibility for the procurement – appeared to be implemented.

Since last year South Africa has signed government-to-government nuclear framework agreements with China, France, Russia, and South Korea, all of which were treated with great secrecy. It is understood that the agreements all excluded Eskom entirely from the project.

On Tuesday Joemat-Pettersson said that the country agreements “describe broad areas of nuclear co-operation” but “differ in emphasis”.

The state-owned Russian nuclear company Rosatom originally interpreted the agreement signed with it as an effective appointment for the entire nuclear build programme, an impression that was only gainsaid by the South African government after public outrage at the fait accompli.

Zuma visited Russia earlier this month and had what the presidency described as “wide ranging talks” with President Vladimir Putin.

“The leaders agreed on the need to intensify cooperation in various areas further – including trade – and to explore opportunities further in the areas of mining, energy and agriculture, amongst others,” the presidency said in a statement after the visit.

Joemat-Pettersson was not part of the delegation.

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Phillip De Wet
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