Rosatom shrugs off minister's doubts

Rosatom's Unit 4 at Rostov Nuclear Power Plant in Russia under construction. (Photo: Matthew le Cordeur)
Rosatom's Unit 4 at Rostov Nuclear Power Plant in Russia under construction. (Photo: Matthew le Cordeur)

Johannesburg - Despite Energy Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi's concerns that the court decision to set aside South Africa's nuclear deal may have damaged relations with Russia, a spokeperson of Russian state-owned nuclear company Rosatom told Fin24 that the verdict has not influenced its operations in the country.

Kubayi is leading a South African delegation - which includes Kelvin Kemm, chair of the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) - at the Russian nuclear forum Atomexpo 2017 in Moscow.

The minister told EWN in Moscow that South Africa’s legal battles over the country’s proposed nuclear power project may have damaged relations with Russia. She added the country must be careful not to tarnish other countries through its own internal disputes.

In March the Western Cape High Court set aside the nuclear agreements government signed with vendor countries including Russia, declaring them unlawful and unconstitutional. Earthlife Africa and the South African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute won the case after challenging the government’s decision to procure 9.6 MWof nuclear energy.

“I have a sense that we might have gone too far in fighting our own country in damaging our relations with Russia. We should have dealt with the issue with our own government as South African,” Kubayi said in the interview.

Kubayi met with Rosatom regional vice-president of sub-Saharan Africa Victor Polikarpov at the conference, who said the Russians were still keen to work with South Africa.

READ: Rosatom remains upbeat about nuclear after Eskom cans RFI

A Rosatom spokesperson told Fin24 on Tuesday that the high court verdict has no direct relation to Rosatom.

“The determination refers to the internal ratification procedures of South Africa for three government-to-government agreements signed in 2014 with Russia, South Korea and the USA. This determination does not directly affect the scope of these agreements,” he said.

Rosatom has confirmed it will participate in any further procedures related to the new nuclear programme, he said, and “remains committed to participating in transparent and competitive procurement procedures”.

The spokesperson added that Rosatom believed that the request for information (RFI) process was only intended for information gathering and to further enable transparency in the procurement procedure. It was therefore a timely and necessary step, he added.

Kubayi told reporters in Moscow that a decision will be made in the next three months on South Africa’s nuclear future.

Necsa’s Kemm, who served as a moderator in one of the sessions, said South Africa would award the nuclear contract by the end of the year.

He also told the conference that Rosatom is a definite contender for South Africa’s nuclear expansion project.

Kubayi said on the department’s Facebook page that she is attending the conference to interact with world nuclear leaders on the importance of nuclear energy as a solution to fight climate change.

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