SA's nuclear plans: Fanning the flames of suspicion

Anti-nuclear protesters outside the Western Cape High Court. (Pic: Matthew le Cordeur, Fin24)
Anti-nuclear protesters outside the Western Cape High Court. (Pic: Matthew le Cordeur, Fin24)

Cape Town - South Africa's nuclear determination and procurement plans have once again triggered shock and outrage.

Acting Eskom CEO Matshela Koko announced on Tuesday that the power utility will launch requests for proposals (RFPs) for its 9.6GW nuclear build.  

This followed news in court that the Department of Energy (DoE) plans to gazette a new nuclear determination to replace the 2013 determination. The gazette is intended to change the procuring agency from the DoE to Eskom.

READ: Eskom to release nuclear RFP this week – Koko

The DoE legal team only received the determination this week and surprised both the judge and the legal team representation of environmentalist groups Safcei and Earthlife SA.

The groups are legally challenging government’s nuclear procurement process, focusing on an intergovernmental agreement signed with Russia in 2014. They believe legal documents indicate that South Africa did sign a binding nuclear deal with Russia.

“Eskom’s actions is an expression of disrespect for the democratic and legal process”, said Ted Blom from the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa).

“A strong chance existed that the court would have found the original determination to be illegal and set aside for a number of reasons, one being the lack of a meaningful public consultation processes," he said.

"This time around, the government and Eskom have chosen to wilfully deny the public a chance to comment on the biggest procurement decision likely ever to be made in the country’s history.”

READ: Surprise energy gazette could delay nuclear trial

The court case, which was postponed, is expected to proceed in February.


Outa chairperson Wayne Duvenage said the government is manipulating the legal process to ensure they can commence with the nuclear energy procurement process before the court has an opportunity to scrutinise it.  

“This relentless and irrational conduct is endangering the country’s economic stability for decades to come. Outa is currently assessing its legal options and other avenues on this matter.”

READ: Eskom's nuclear RFP launch surprises markets

Commenting on the RFPs, Nomura economist Peter Attard Montalto said the news came as a “surprise” as nuclear no longer seemed to be an issue after the DoE published its Integrated Resources Plan (IRP).

He said responses to the RFP are expected to be completed within one or two months and Eskom may have final bids by the second half of 2017. Construction could possibly start in 2019.

The South African Renewable Energy Council (SAREC), which aims to promote the renewable energy sector in South Africa, said it is hugely disappointed and disheartened over the latest developments.


"The rushed timing of the ministerial determination is baffling, given that the Department of Energy has just commenced a public participation process to update the Integrated Resource Plan," SAREC chair Brenda Martin said.

"The draft version of the DOE’s plan seriously questions whether nuclear power has a role to play in South Africa’s future generation mix with, at best, a requirement for additional nuclear power in 2037."

SAREC believes that this irrational behaviour fans the flames of suspicion as to the real motives behind the nuclear campaign. It is of the view that facts, logic and basic financial prudence simply do not support this determination.

“Sadly, it appears that Eskom and an increasingly compliant Department of Energy are playing to a different set of rules,” Martin added.

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