SA at the back of Rosatom's queue, says energy expert

Cape Town – It is questionable whether Russian state nuclear energy corporation Rosatom will build eight nuclear plants in South Africa, according to a UK energy policy expert.

Professor Steve Thomas from the University of Greenwich’s Business School said there are other countries Russia hopes to win contracts for which are more attractive than South Africa.

Russia has firm nuclear orders with eight countries and negotiations are advanced with another six countries, which are all ahead of South Africa.  

READ: Can Russia deliver on nuclear promise?

He told Fin24 that in the past 30 years, Russia has started building just 14 commercial reactors. Six are for its home market, four for China, two for India and two for Belarus, with eight of these still under construction.

“However, it claims firm orders for at least 17 further reactors in eight countries, while deals are said to be close in another half a dozen countries,” he said. “All of these are ahead of South Africa in the queue.

“After a period of about 10 years when it averaged one order per year, it is hard to see how Rosatom could manufacture the equipment for five or more reactors per year,” said Thomas.

The reality may be that what is going on has more to do with diplomacy and international politics than selling reactors, the expert said.

“Russia can only supply a small proportion of the reactors apparently ordered or planned,” he said.

“Given the close connections between the Russian government and Rosatom, the likelihood is that the ones that will go ahead will be for markets where Russia most values political influence, such as the Middle East and Europe, and markets that offer the lowest financial risk such as Europe and Saudi Arabia.”

While Thomas said it is the financial side that is most in doubt, Rosatom vice-president for sub-Saharan Africa Viktor Polikarpov told Fin24 that the company’s stock of orders for South Africa includes projects with different financial options and solutions.

“The project funding may be provided in the framework of intergovernmental agreements, either through export credit or public credit from the Russian Federation as well as funding from state-owned banks in Russia,” he explained.

“While the cost implication of a nuclear build programme is important and should not be ignored, the cost of not investing in base load electricity capacity will be far greater,” he said.

“South Africa is ideally suited to further develop nuclear power as a safe, viable and long-term solution to its growing energy demands.”

* Read Viktor Polikarpov's full opinion story on why Rosatom's nuclear bid for SA is a positive move on Monday September 7.

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