Russian bidder’s first bite of cherry ‘just a coincidence’, insists nuke boss

2014-10-24 00:00

SOUTH Africa’s nuclear chief says the giant fission power stations plan will trigger an entire new industry — including the export of “nuclear products”.

In an interview at the first pre-procurement workshop with Russia, Zizamele Mbambo told The Witness that the project should boost training and both high-tech and blue collar jobs.

“We want to be self-sufficient in the entire nuclear build value chain, which includes manufacturing jobs, mining, construction, skills development, even export, and the vendors understand that,” he said.

A deputy director-general in charge of nuclear energy, Mbambo said allegations of favouritism toward the Russian bid were “mistaken”, and that their choice as the first workshop bidder was “just coincidental”.

“It’s just they [were first] to indicate their readiness to come and present,” he said. “This workshop is about the vendor country coming to showcase to us South Africans what their technology offerings would be if they were elected to be the supplier of nuclear technology here. [Rosatom] have presented thoroughly what their technology is — a comprehensive presentation in our view.”

He added: “More than 50 experts — from academia, government, state-owned entities — are now in a plenary with the vendor, which itself has brought more than 20 experts to this workshop.”

The DA, some unions and other critics have alleged the deal is irregular, and “already a done deal” — and Rosatom itself has appeared to suggest it will be the selected vendor.

But Mbambo said: “We announced last year that our previous minister was going to go into vendor countries to undertake study tours, and understand how these countries have done their nuclear build. Now we’ve made announcements that we’ve signed intergovernmental agreements, some of which might have been misunderstood. We need these so we could have a legal basis around which these countries are indicating how they would want to co-operate with South Africa. It is still a framework agreement. The procurement process has not started; this is preparatory work to provide government with information it needs to design its procurement plan, which will ultimately be approved by cabinet.”

Asked if cost was the only consideration for bidders, he said: “Government will have its own criteria it will use for selecting the vendor”.

Challenged on the secretive nature of the workshops, he said: “Government has been engaging extensively with media in the area of the nuclear build policy. And the nuclear energy policy for 2008 underwent an extensive consultation process until it became policy. This work has a solid foundation in policy, which has been developed transparently.”

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