Veil of secrecy covers Russia nuclear deal

Pretoria - Minister of Energy Tina Joemat-Pettersson was alone when she signed a mysterious multi-billion rand nuclear deal with Russia, Fin24's sister publication Beeld reported on Wednesday.

The rest of the South African delegation to the annual general meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Austria, where the agreement was signed, was apparently told to go and wait somewhere else, because the meeting with the Russians was "private".

The government has been refusing over the past two weeks to reveal details of the agreement.

The Russian nuclear energy corporation Rosatom originally announced that a transaction to build eight nuclear reactors at a cost of R559bn in South Africa was agreed on in Vienna.

The transaction was signed by Joemat-Pettersson on behalf of South Africa and Sergei Kirienko, director general of Rosatom.

The government has since backtracked to convince the world that the agreement with Russia is not binding and that a transparent tender process will be followed.

READ: Barnard: Nuclear deal only window shopping

Similar agreements will apparently be signed with France, China and Japan.

On Tuesday Joemat-Pettersson did not want to comment on a query by Beeld regarding the issue. She referred Beeld to Dr Wolsey Barnard, acting director general of energy.

According to Barnard he was not present when the agreement was signed in Vienna, but he does not think it is strange for ministers to meet behind closed doors on such occasions.

Beeld was informed by a reliable source that officials of the delegation dealing with all aspects of the IAEA's operations and who have to comply with all SA's responsibilities to the agency, were stunned when they found out afterwards what had actually happened during the Russian meeting.

Even staff at the SA embassy in Vienna had been warned by "a higher authority" that they must not mention anything to the media about matters relating to the meeting.

They were even threatened that a delegate of the department of state security will be called in to trace any whistle blowers.

According to Barnard it is standard practice for ministers to have private meetings at important occasions.

Barnard said more information will be revealed once all the various countries have signed.

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* For more on this story and more business news in Afrikaans, visit Netwerk24.

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