Russians in nuclear offensive

2013-07-07 14:00

Regenerated journey to nuclear energy in SA has led to fierce lobbying behind the scenes

Russia’s state-owned nuclear energy company Rosatom is out-schmoozing the competition for a share in the mother of all tenders: the proposed nuclear build programme.

The company has secured a series of top-level political meetings this year, and another was expected this week in St Petersburg at a nuclear conference before South African energy minister Dipuo Peters cancelled her trip.

South Africa’s new national energy plan, the Integrated Resource Plan 2010-2030, was approved in March 2011. It envisages building six to eight new nuclear reactors to generate an additional 9.6GW of electricity by 2030.

The nuclear build programme is expected to be the largest tender in South African history – experts have speculated that it will exceed R1?trillion.

The bidding war to supply South Africa with new reactors is expected to start before the end of the year, once Cabinet approves the tender.

Government is adamant that before the tender is put out, all vendors are equal. But in reality there is fierce lobbying behind the scenes for political backing.

Until the beginning of this year, French nuclear company Areva seemed to be the frontrunner, with the French seeking support from union federation Cosatu and the National Union of Mineworkers.

Areva was also the preferred bidder for the last nuclear tender put out by South Africa in 2008.

But the tender was cancelled shortly after former president Thabo Mbeki was recalled and the nuclear programme was postponed.

The Russians’ lobbying this year has surpassed all other nuclear competitors and effectively began when they opened a marketing office in Sandton a year ago.

Publicly, the Russian state- owned utility has been pushing hard with several high-level meetings between important Russian officials and Peters.

In February, Sergey Kiriyenko, the director-general of Rosatom, led a top delegation to South Africa which met with top energy department officials, including the minister.

A month later, during the Brics Summit in Durban, Russia was at the door again. Loyiso Langen, Rosatom’s press secretary in South Africa, confirmed that the company used the platform to interact with South African decision makers and promote Rosatom’s proficiency, products and services.

And last month, during President Jacob Zuma’s state visit to Russia, Peters again met with Kiriyenko.

The visit ended with Zuma and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin punting stronger nuclear cooperation between South Africa and Russia.

“Russia stands ready to help create a comprehensive nuclear power industry in South Africa,” Putin told Russian reporters after meeting Zuma. It is expected that Russia might also call in so-called struggle favours in its lobbying.

Compared to the Russian offensive, the French have been strangely quiet in the public domain, with few high-level discussions taking place.

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