South Africa was firmly committed to adding to its nuclear energy capacity but would only sign a supplier agreement with another country if it was affordable and in line with local procurement rules, energy minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson told MPs on Tuesday.
“How are we going to reduce our carbon footprint and increase our baseload if we are not going to do nuclear energy?” she said in a briefing to Parliament’s portfolio committee on energy.
“We are committed to a thorough cost-benefit analysis and the cost-benefit analysis is part of the procurement process. We are not going to compromise our country in any way,” the minister added.
She went on to not only deny persistent reports — fuelled by a leaked draft deal — that Russia’s state nuclear agency Rosatom was the preferred bidder to build South Africa’s second nuclear power plant, but to insist that the procurement process to add another 9 600 megawatts of nuclear energy to the grid by 2030 had not yet begun, though she wants it to be finalised by the end of the financial year.
“There is no preferred bidder,” she said, before stressing that the deadline was the end of the current financial year in March 2016.
Joemat-Pettersson said she was showing the committee the outlines of the nuclear co-operation models the department had signed with Russia, China, the United States, France and South Korea — those with Canada and Japan were yet to be finalised — for the sake of transparency but that they should not be mistaken for contracts or commitments to funding models.
“Please do not treat these agreements as if it is the funding model,” she said.
‘When we are ready we will bring it to you’
“The funding model has not been completed … there is nothing about that in the agreements. So when we are ready we will bring it to you,” Joemat-Pettersson said, adding that she wanted any agreement to be open to “public scrutiny”.
However, she added, that certain aspects of the planned negotiations would initially be tabled to Parliament as classified information.
“We are not going to rush anywhere unless I am confident that this process could stand the scrutiny of any legal investigation … But then again, there is information on the commercial side and on the safety and security side which I am going to request the members to initially table as classified documents, which is also correctly so. ”
In response to questions from the opposition, she said reports that Treasury had only belatedly been given insight into the implications of what seems likely to be the country’s biggest infrastructure project to date were untrue.
Democratic Alliance finance spokesperson David Maynier said last week that Treasury had “only just been invited into the process” and acting director general of energy, Wolsey Barnard, has suggested that the finance ministry was not yet involved as the process was still in a pre-procurement phase.
“Treasury has been involved, whoever answered three weeks ago, if it was the acting director general, I have to see what happened on that day, maybe it was one of his off days, but certainly the acting DG does know about the Treasury involvement.”
Joemat-Pettersson said she was committed to transparency.
“The cost benefit analysis is part of the procurement process. We are not going to compromise our country in any way. It is important that we do not allow ourselves to be bamboozled by technicalities or jargon or stories. And I cannot be responding to perceptions that it’s going to cost us R1-trillion. I don’t know where it came from, because it did not come from us. Once we complete the funding model, we will bring it to the committee.”
The chairperson of the energy committee Fikile Majola on Tuesday pressed the department to respond to questions from MPs in full, and called for public hearings into the nuclear expansion programme to ensure maximum transparency.
But the meeting saw a plea from ANC MP Tandi Mahambehlala not to allow to detractors to delay the process and to “let this child be born prematurely” if need be.
“How do you investigate a pregnant woman before she delivers? In essence you are saying that this child that you are carrying is going to be a criminal, let me investigate this criminal you are carrying before you deliver in the process of carrying this child for nine months. That’s what is happening here,” she said.
She said it was a fallacy that the government favours nuclear over renewable energy.
“Already we have Koeberg. If this nuclear is the devil minister, why don’t we close Koeberg and see how renewable energy will work? The president of the country made an announcement that we in South Africa are for energy mix. And that mix includes [nuclear] energy.”
Mahambehlala, who started off by lambasting “unqualified anti-nuclear activists who had studied theology”, told the minister that there was nothing that could be done about the prophets of doom.
“They will always be there. Now I want to urge that before this child you are carrying is cremated at all costs, you must deliver. Deliver the child, whether the child is premature or what.”
Speaking about the areas of cooperation with Russia, France, China, South Korea and United States, nuclear energy deputy director general Zizamele Mbambo said it was important to note that the countries negotiated uniquely with South Africa on a government-to-government basis, and each had offered different proposals based on their capacity and willingness to support the country.