Eight Russian nukes for SA?

2014-11-01 00:00

SOUTH Africa is likely to become the biggest cash cow in Vladimir Putin’s new nuclear export empire.

And the Russians are so keen for the deal — with a value of at least R700 billion — that they are happy to build eight nuclear plants here at their own initial expense, and even to take back our radioactive waste.

This week, nuclear energy watchdog experts in Europe told The Witness that Russia’s proposal to build eight nuclear plants here would be “very hard to beat” by rival bidders — even without any alleged private deals between Putin and President Jacob Zuma.

A report by the World Nuclear Association shows that Russia’s atomic energy company, Rosatom, has either built or plans to build nuclear power plants in at least 15 mostly developing world countries, from Jordan to Vietnam.

However, it shows that South Africa is offering a contract twice as large as any other country’s, making the deal by far the richest prize in Putin’s mushrooming nuclear empire.

Sources with knowledge of deals done by Russia’s atomic energy company, Rosatom, said Russia would guarantee to remove nuclear waste to its own territory, as it has done with Bangladesh and other recent client countries.

Overall, Rosatom is building 28 of the 41 nuclear plants under construction in the world, outside of China, and its exports have boomed 60% in two years.

The biggest nuclear export deal yet concluded by Rosatom was $25 billion (R275 billion) for four nuclear plants in Turkey.

The Russian quote for eight South African plants — to be clustered around the western and southern Cape — is not yet known.

However, The Witness has identified the precise reactor model which was offered by Rosatom at a secret workshop in the Drakensberg last week — as well as its “book value”.

In a break-out meeting attended by The Witness, Rosatom officials discussed “passive safety systems”, 1 200 MW capacity, a residual heat removal system, and “third-generation” containment, including added protection against aircraft strikes.

Dr Nils Böhmer, a nuclear physicist at the Bellona energy research group in Finland, said the description matched plants being built in Hungary and St Petersburg.

Rosatom’s model V491 AES 2006 plant is protected by a 144 ton double steel cylinder, filled with specialised concrete, and cooled with four coolant loops.

“This is a new reactor design by Rosatom with an [effective output] of about 1 200 MW, which is being built for example close to St Petersburg,” said Böhmer.

A deal for two units cost Hungarians R176 million — suggesting that South Africa would pay R704 million for eight of the same units, subject to discounts and sweeteners.

Lance Greyling, energy spokesperson for the DA, said he feared the costs could swell to R1 trillion if South Africa opted to buy the plants upfront, due to delays and cost overruns.

The nuclear association report stated that the Kremlin “prefers” a “builder, owner, operator” (BOO) model for South Africa. This means that Russia would initially finance and own the reactors, and South Africa would have to buy energy from Rosatom for over a decade, and at a much higher price for consumers.

Turkey bought its reactors under the “BOO” model, and must pay R1,45 per kilowatt hour — about 40% higher than its wholesale energy price — for the next 15 years, while also servicing a massive loan from the Russian government.

Greyling said South Africans’ energy bills would likely “double” from the current 60 cents per kilowatt hour under that arrangement.

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