Controversial nuclear programme to launch at month-end

Cape Town – South Africa’s nuclear procurement programme will officially begin on September 30, amid a court case against the process and as rating agencies watch the country’s spending plans.

Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson announced the latest milestone in Parliament on Wednesday, when asked for an update on the controversial 9.6 GW nuclear new build programme.

South Africa currently has one nuclear power station – Koeberg in Cape Town – and this programme would effectively see another three or four power stations built either near Koeberg or near Jeffrey’s Bay in the Eastern Cape.

Joemat-Pettersson told Parliament that the Department of Energy would release its request for proposals on September 30, which would “test the market”.

It had originally planned to release this process at the end of March, after Cabinet published a Gazette in December 2015 to allow the process to proceed.

Southern African Faith Communities' Environment Institute (Safcei) and Earthlife Africa are engaged in legal proceedings against the Department of Energy over agreements signed with Russia’s nuclear firm Rosatom ahead of the official procurement process.

Legal documents indicate that South Africa did sign a nuclear deal with Russia, the group claims. They said “the Russian agreement was entered into unlawfully, but makes (an) internationally binding commitment to buy a fleet of nuclear reactors from Russia”.

"We from Safcei and in civil society have been trying to communicate with government for years about the best way ahead for South Africa’s energy future," Safcei's Bishop Geoff Davies told Fin24 on Thursday. 

"We have clear evidence that nuclear is now the most expensive and unwise form of energy, particularly in South Africa with the best of renewable energy resources in the world.

"For more than five years, our letters to President Jacob Zuma have been unanswered and unacknowledged. We are deeply suspicious of the motives behind the government’s commitment to nuclear energy."

Joemat-Pettersson’s announcement of the release of the request for proposals is “ill advised”, Gordon Mackay, the Democratic Alliance spokesperson on energy, told Fin24 on Thursday.

He cited the above case of “procedural irregularity”, which is currently before the high court in the Western Cape. In addition, he said it was worrying as South Africa “enters the so-called ratings season, which will determine SA's credit rating come year end”.

“The move by the minister will surely undermine attempts by National Treasury to bolster confidence and maintain a stable credit rating.”

These issues would be made clearer if the Department of Energy updated its Integrated Resource Plan – which has not been published since 2010. It should be published every two years.

Professor Anton Eberhard, who advises government on energy policy, said the programme will be an unnecessary financial burden in the country.

He has called for the power sector to be restructured, with a focus on independent power producers that includes renewables energy.

“We need to follow best international practice by separating state-owned power generation from transmission and system operations, so that the latter can procure and dispatch both state and private power in a fair and transparent manner,” he told Fin24 recently.

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