Russia's Rosatom: SA nuclear contract not a done deal

Johannesburg – Russia’s state-owned nuclear energy company Rosatom on Tuesday slammed all allegations that Russia has signed a secret and corrupt deal with President Jacob Zuma to secure a long-term nuclear deal in South Africa.

Viktor Polikarpov, Rosatom’s head of sub-Saharan Africa operations, told Fin24 at the Africa Energy Indaba in Sandton that there have been no secrets as South Africa plans its nuclear build programme. He stressed that Russia did not sign a secret deal with Zuma.

Polikarpov said there is no truth in the rumours that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Zuma struck a secret nuclear deal to seal a century-long nuclear programme in South Africa.

“We cannot hook up with a politician and make a deal (that will span) generations,” he told Fin24 on Tuesday.

“If we are chosen as the preferred bidder, we will have to stay here as strategic partners and work together for 100 years at least,” he said. “It is not a short-term political solution. It’s a long-term cooperative country-to-country solution.”

Earlier, Polikarpov told a nuclear forum discussion at the indaba that there was and is no secrecy regarding Rosatom’s bid to win the 9 600 MW nuclear new build programme.

“I really don’t feel we are secret,” he said in a response to a question. “You can come to our office and see for yourself.”

He was sitting next to Dr Yves Guenon, Areva's South Africa director. The French company has put its full effort into competing for the bid in 2016, something Polikarpov said would not be happening if a deal had been signed.

Polikarpov said suspicion that Rosatom had inked a deal was raised because it was the first country to sign the intergovernmental agreement on nuclear energy.

The US, China, South Korea and France subsequently also signed the agreement, which is needed by international law before any further agreements can progress.

“It was a framework agreement,” said Polikarpov. “No deal was struck. It has been much exaggerated by the press, who says it is a done deal. It’s not a done deal. I don’t really see any secret.”

He added that there was a mishap with Rosatom’s press statement in 2014, in which it stated that it had won the overall deal. “Frankly, that was a mistake,” he said.

RELATED: Russians blame PR for SA nuclear deal confusion

In his State of the Nation address in 2016, Zuma said South Africa would proceed with its nuclear programme with caution.

“We will test the market to ascertain the true cost of building modern nuclear plants,” he said. “Let me emphasise that we will only procure nuclear on a scale and pace that our country can afford.”

The caution follows a gazette signed by the Energy Department over Christmas, which allows it to call for nuclear construction and financing proposals from Rosatom and its competitors.

The Russians are prepared. Rosatom set up an office in Johannesburg in 2015 and employed a public relations firm to boost its image. Polikarpov said his aim is to change the perception around nuclear and to build trust and relationships.

“We have a good PR team in South Africa,” said Polikarpov. “We are working hard to change the perception and eradicate the myths, which are circulating around nuclear and around Rosatom.

“The South African public is frankly very emotional,” he said. “We cannot deal with nuclear on emotions only. We all have to be very knowledgeable and very pragmatic (about nuclear energy).”

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