‘We are humbly the best’ - nuclear firm Rosatom

Johannesburg – Russian state corporation, Rosatom, has every intention to bid for the 9.6GW nuclear tender, once the South African government issues the Request for Proposal (RFP).

The nuclear firm became known for its alleged nuclear deal with the Department of Energy as far back as 2014. Speculations about the deal were reported by media, resulting in public outcry,protest and court application by environmentalists and opposition parties. In an interview with Fin24 at the Power-Gen and DistribuTECH Africa 2016 conference, held in Sandton, Viktor Polikarpov, Rosatom’s regional vice-president for Sub-Saharan Africa, discussed opportunities for nuclear energy in Africa and Rosatom's position in the upcoming bidding process. 

“Frankly speaking, we are very upset about the speculations, which are totally groundless,” said Polikarpov. Rosatom was the first firm to sign the intergovernmental agreement, among other vendor countries, showing intentions to participate in future nuclear programmes. “This is definitely not a done deal. This is not a deal,” he emphasised.

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The company is waiting for government to issue the RFP. “We will definitely be the company that is prepared to bid… Our technology is humbly the best,” said Polikarpov. Russia is the only country using generation 3+ technology, it is already operational and connected to the grid, as a reference, he added.

Rosatom currently operates in 40 countries around the world, and is in the process of building 44 nuclear reactors. The firm has been operating in the energy industry for over 60 years. “We have the right to participate [in the bidding process]. We will respect any decision taken by the government,” said Polikarpov. The company is prepared to be “transparent” in demonstrating its nuclear technology.

In response to a question about the safety concerns associated with nuclear energy, Polikarpov said that statistically, the nuclear industry is the safest in the world. In the Chernobyl disaster, only 65 people died.

Regarding the Fukushima disaster in 2011, thousands of people were killed by drowning because of the Tsunami, he said. Only one man was killed at the nuclear power plant, by falling from a crane. “Not a single person died from radiation,” said Polikarpov.

The Fukushima disaster showed how the nuclear technology was safe in that it withstood the unique phenomenon of a tsunami and earthquake. Rosatom’s generation 3+ reactor is advanced enough to “encapsulate a meltdown” and neutralize it immediately, if it should happen. A number of other safety measures are taken, to train staff and prepare them to work with nuclear reactors, he said.

Nuclear for Africa

“Nuclear is the future for Africa. This is the world trend,” said Polikarpov. There are 435 nuclear reactors currently and this is estimated to grow to 700 worldwide by 2040.

The greatest challenge in Africa is its energy shortage, 620 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are living without electricity and 25 of the countries in the continent have an energy crisis, said Polikarpov. With the population expected to double in 20 years, an increasing rate of urbanisation and a growing middle class, this places significant strain on existing energy supply. Rosatom wants to tap into that opportunity by providing nuclear powered electricity, he explained.

“We are not against different energy solutions, there should be a combination of different solutions, suitable for each country,” said Polikarpov. Each country chooses its own energy mix, and nuclear should be part of the mix, he said.

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