Eskom terminates nuclear request for information

Eskom's chief nuclear officer David Nicholls. (Pic: Chris Yelland)
Eskom's chief nuclear officer David Nicholls. (Pic: Chris Yelland)

Cape Town – Eskom said it has terminated its request for information (RFI) as part of the 9.6 GW nuclear energy new build procurement programme following a court ruling last week.

The Western Cape High Court ruled last Wednesday that the nuclear procurement processes to date have been declared unlawful and set aside.

Eskom chief nuclear officer David Nicholls confirmed that Eskom will abide by the ruling, tweeting on Tuesday: “To put the issue to rest I want to confirm that Eskom has terminated the nuclear RFI”.

This follows a tweet from Eskom spokesperson Khulu Phasiwe last week, in which he said Eskom will be studying the ruling and “if need be, Eskom will make comments thereafter”.

Judge Lee Bozalek ruled on the evident push to get a procurement programme with Russia going with minimal oversight or public participation.

Bozalek set aside the following:

  • The two ministerial determinations, set by former minister of energy Tina Joemat-Pettersson, that South Africa should procure 9 600 megawatts of nuclear power and that Eskom should be the procurer.

  • The intergovernmental agreement with Russia that, according to this week’s ruling, was never the innocuous and nonbinding agreement that government made it out to be, but instead locked South Africa into a number of problematic concessions to the Russians.

  • Eskom’s request for information, issued in December 2016. The request for proposals from nuclear vendors – planned for this year – is now certain to be cancelled too.

Full story: Nuclear deal brought to its knees

The ruling came two days before Eskom’s deadline on the RFI, which was a precursor to the request for proposals (RFP), which was expected to be released in the first half of 2017.

The court ruling will be a major setback to these timelines, and comes at a time when nuclear requirements for the country are being debated in a new draft energy plan.

Democratic Alliance energy spokesperson Gordon Mackay believes the ruling will be met by “great unhappiness” in the Russian camp and its firm Rosatom.

Russia – whose state-owned firm Rosatom is seen as the frontrunner of the nuclear deal – was at the centre of the court ruling.

He said South Africa can “expect a push back” as Russia “has been courting the South African government for well over a decade now, especially if one takes into account that the Cabinet reshuffle was to expedite South Africa’s nuclear procurement plan”.

Full story: Nuclear ruling to cause 'great unhappiness' in Russian camp

President Jacob Zuma reshuffled his Cabinet on March 31 and among others replaced Joemat-Pettersson with Mmamoloko Kubayi, a presidential loyalist deemed more sympathetic to the nuclear cause.

However, following the court case between the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (Safcei) and Earthlife SA against the Department of Energy (DoE) and Eskom, the victors said they sensed a more transparent process going forward.

Safcei spokesperson Liz McDaid said on Tuesday that the organisation has expressed relief that Kubayi “is supportive of a public discourse and is open to public hearings”.

She said Safcei is “happy that she is in favour of running an open and transparent process, while recognising the need for more public participation”.

“We do, however, hope that the minister will shake things up in her department and that she will take action against those who have brought the DoE into disrepute.

“This will include anyone who was and who may still be involved in pushing unlawful processes. We believe that this should also include a critical look at Eskom, since the parastatal is tasked with such a crucial role within the process.”

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