South Africans should truly be concerned about the government’s pending nuclear deal with Russia’s state-owned nuclear enterprise, Rosatom.
The deal renders the notorious arms deal but a drop in the ocean in terms of the potential for corruption, and the Nkandla scandal a meagre trailer of the real movie yet to come.
So far, the deal has been discussed behind closed doors. It falls within the domain of Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson and is linked to President Jacob Zuma.
If it weren’t for two small, underfunded, environmental justice organisations, the South African public would be facing up to a century of financial liability to a dodgy foreign power.
All this while money continues to flow out of state coffers.
On September 23 2014, Rosatom announced on its official website that Russia had secured a nuclear procurement contract with the South African government, through signing an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) on nuclear cooperation.
The same notice appeared on the South African department of energy’s website.
After a public outcry, it was quickly removed and the department of energy subsequently announced it was entering into a fair procurement process with all nuclear-vendor countries in the coming months.
Two environmental justice organisations, Earthlife Africa Johannesburg and the SA Faith Communities Environment Institute (Safcei), have been on the case since then, and immediately started requesting access to the IGAs apparently being signed.
The organisations were refused access to the IGAs from the department of energy on the grounds that it would damage the commercially sensitive nature of the procurement process.
However, in February last year, Earthlife Africa Johannesburg managed to obtain a Russian copy of the IGA that was signed with that country, and had it translated and leaked to the Mail & Guardian.
The details of the agreement were scary, to say the least.
South Africa is locked into a binding deal with Russia to purchase up to eight nuclear reactors, to be placed either at Thyspunt in the Eastern Cape or at the existing nuclear power facility at Koeberg in the Western Cape.
The deal is estimated to be worth R1.8 trillion and will cost the average citizen a small fortune in terms of the service delivery that that amount of money could otherwise afford.
Similarly, the deal will undoubtedly cause dramatically negative socioeconomic impacts through wide-scale job losses and accelerated poverty levels, as nuclear power will cause the already booming price of electricity to drastically increase.
Finally, once the IGAs with the other vendor countries were released around August last year, it became abundantly clear the deal with Russia was biased and the grounds for an unfair procurement process had already been set.
For example, the other IGAs were not as detailed and not all had been signed around the time the vendor parade workshops were supposed to have taken place.
The IGA with the US, for example, dates back to 1995, yet was tabled in Parliament as a part of a fair nuclear procurement process.
The IGAs with Canada and Japan remain a mystery.
Further, the Russian IGA was tabled under a clause of the Constitution that renders it a technical agreement, which does not require parliamentary discussion or debate.
To this day, no official response by the portfolio committee on energy has been made on how this incredibly important decision was quietly swept under the carpet.
These unorthodox behaviours are what led Earthlife Africa Johannesburg and Safcei to take court action to appeal that the nuclear procurement deal immediately be set aside until lawful and constitutional procurement practices have been followed. Relief is particularly sought from the minister of energy and the president.
One may at this point be asking: What of the National Energy Regulator of SA (Nersa) – the institution tasked with safeguarding the public interest in terms of the Electricity Regulations Act, in all of these shenanigans?
Well, evidence released by the state’s legal team shows that Nersa approved the Rosatom deal against an acknowledged, outdated integrated resource plan (IRP) for electricity, and with full acceptance that the outdated IRP understates the immense cost of nuclear power and South Africa’s need for it.
The organisations filed papers on October 12 last year and, since then, a game of cat and mouse with the government and the respective legal teams has ensured.
Initially, the government failed to deliver its responding papers and has subsequently missed three legal deadlines regarding the Cape Town High Court’s legal proceedings. Thus far, the government’s responses have been characterised by delays, extensions and postponing.
The lesson for South Africans here is that our civil voice and consciousness are weak, and against the backdrop of a weakening democratic system, it must urgently improve.
Will the South African public wait, like it waited for the e-toll gantries to be built, before it puts its foot down to the most expensive procurement that Africa has seen?
Earthlife Africa Johannesburg and Safcei dare the public to take a stand and say no to nuclear power, before our children pay for our costly mistakes.
Steenkamp and Doyle are with Earthlife Africa Johannesburg.
To donate to the nuclear legal challenge, visit earthlife.org.za