Ramaphosa tells Putin the time's not right for nuclear

South Africa’s nuclear energy expansion programme formed part of wide-ranging talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday afternoon, but no conclusion was reached on the matter, a spokesperson said.

Russia has been one of the countries vying to build new nuclear power reactors in South Africa that would produce around 9.6 gigawatts of energy. But the controversial project, which gained momentum during former president Jacob Zuma’s term in office, has been criticised for being too costly for the country's struggling economy.

Putin, in the country for the 2018 Brics Summit in Johannesburg, held talks with Ramaphosa on the sidelines of the meeting. Nuclear energy was one of the topics the two leaders discussed, said Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Khusela Diko.

“The issue of nuclear expansion was discussed, as it relates to our broader energy mix,” Diko told Fin24. “The president reiterated that South Africa can only afford  it at an appropriate time, and at a pace and scale it could afford."

Russian state nuclear agency Rosatom was last year reported to have submitted a bid to build the nuclear power reactors. China and France had also showed interest.

Environmental groups have opposed the nuclear build programme, citing safety concerns. Other sectors of the public raised concerns around the projected cost at a time when the country was battling poor growth.

The programme was also the subject of a court challenge.

In April 2017 the Western Cape High Court ruled that certain of the state's decisions around the procurement of nuclear power were unlawful.

The court ruled against the initial plan to procure nuclear energy that dates from 2013, cooperation agreements signed with Russia, the US and South Korea, as well as former Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson’s decision to hand over the procurement of nuclear energy to Eskom in 2016.

The court bid was launched by Earthlife Africa and the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (Safcei), who argued that the process flouted democratic processes.

Since he was elected president in February 2018, Ramaphosa has repeatedly stated that while nuclear remains part of South Africa’s energy mix the country can't currently afford to build new reactors.

In June, Energy Minister Jeff Radebe said SA no longer had an agreement with Russia to build nuclear power stations due to the court ruling.

“That question was decided by the high court in the Western Cape last year, where the submission of the intergovernmental agreement of Russia, the United States and South Korea was tested in court. The court decided the submission was unconstitutional, unlawful and set it aside,” he said at the time.

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