Nuke secret talks close

2014-11-26 00:00

SOUTH Africa’s controversial “workshops” for it’s trillion-Rand nuclear programme have all been secretly held in KZN this month — with the final presentation made by U.S. ­nuclear ­experts yesterday.

The Witness can reveal that in the past 10 days France, China, South Korea and the USA all pitched their “localisation benefits” and nuclear reactor technologies to power the country’s future electricity needs at a Drakensberg conference hotel.

Last month, The Witness ­revealed that Russia’s state atomic company, Rosatom, ­offered eight large reactors in a secret four-day seminar at the Champagne Sports ­Resort.

The Democratic Alliance and other critics have alleged that a “secret deal” with ­President Vladimir Putin has already ­secured the giant contract for Russia.

They also alleged that workshops promised by the government for other countries were “window dressing to distract from a done deal”, or that they might not happen at all. Russia was given the first workshop.

However, the other vendor countries were given a chance to pitch to the Department of ­Energy at the same hotel in the past two weeks, making this ­luxury resort, formerly owned by tennis ace Kevin Curren, the birthplace of South Africa’s new nuclear ­industry.

Japan had also been invited to pitch, but The Witness understands it could not get its presentation ready in time.

South Africa’s nuclear chief, Dr Zizamele Mbambo, said earlier that the workshops were “confidential” due to the proprietary rights of the presenting agencies.

But Mbambo denied the process was secret, and offered to brief The Witness at the meeting venue on the completion of the workshop phase today.

The procurement phase lies ahead.

Durban nuclear scientist ­Kelvin Kemm — who has advised cabinet ministers on the deal — said the Russian VVER 1200 reactor and the American AP 1000 reactor designs presented in the Drakensberg were the best of the five country offers.

“But its not just about who has the best machine at the best [price].

“These presentations are largely about who offers the most local collaboration; the most localisation; the best adaptability to local conditions; engineering support for ­maintenance, etc,” he said.

Kemm said the Russian bid featured both the “advantages and disadvantages” of direct government involvement, while the American bid — presented by Westinghouse — was “a purely commercial offer”.

“They have stated publically that their offer has the benefit of not being contaminated by politics,” he said.

Kemm said that — depending on recommendations from the workshops — “this may not be a winner takes all situation. Vendors from various countries may be involved in different aspects of the build”.

However, one internal ­Rosatom slide suggests that Russia is pushing for the entire contract: offering much higher local benefits if the country buys all eight reactors from them.

Russia has not only offered to arrange finance for the power stations, but also to remove South Africa’s future nuclear waste.

Kemm said the French design was the most unlike the other four, and described the French offer as a “we’ll do everything for you” pitch, which he suggested would be more suitable for a country with no nuclear ­experience. He said the third generation designs from Westinghouse and Rosatom offered “passive ­safety” systems ideal for South African conditions “in which [reactors] naturally switch themselves off in an emergency”.

A DA member of Parliament’s energy committee, Lance Greyling, revealed that the Minister of Energy has refused a ­Promotion of Access to Information Act request to disclose the “co-operation” agreement signed with Russia in March.

He said Minister Tina ­Joemat-Pettersson refused the request due to the “proprietary rights” of the bidding ­companies.

Greyling said: “These ­workshops this week give the perception that other countries are being given a fair hearing, but they don’t deal with the ­suspicion that this has been ­predetermined. We must see the ­agreements.”

Meanwhile, some companies have already started work to ­capitalise on the nuclear mega contract.

Kemm’s own company, ­Nuclear Africa, is developing an accreditation system, which would allow local manufacturers to export nuclear components, like valves, which are made to ­international nuclear standards.

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