RUSSIA’s Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation announced on Monday that an agreement had been signed in Vienna with Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson for large-scale nuclear power plant development in SA.
It implied that Rosatom had been selected as SA’s preferred partner for its plans to procure 9.6 gigawatts (GW) of nuclear power by 2030, beating rivals from France, the US, Japan, China and South Korea.
The announcement reinforced suspicions that there were hidden reasons behind President Jacob Zuma’s lengthy visit to Russia last month for “bilateral trade talks” interspersed with “rest periods”.
In his state of the nation speech in June, Mr Zuma stressed the government’s commitment to nuclear energy.
Three potential sites for nuclear power stations exist — at Western Cape’s Koeberg and Gansbaai and Eastern Cape’s Thyspunt — and detailed studies on their suitability have been carried out.
Spokesmen from the Presidency and the Department of Energy did not return calls on Monday seeking clarity on the deal.
Rosatom director-general Sergey Kirienko said in the statement the deal was based on “the construction in RSA of new nuclear power plants with Russian VVER reactors with total installed capacity of up to 9.6GW (up to eight units).”
A VVER reactor is Russia’s version of a pressurised water reactor. Rosatom said these would be the first nuclear power plants based on the Russian technology to be built in Africa.
Analysts were sceptical that the deal made up SA’s nuclear procurement. “It is probably Rosatom trying to steal a march on its rivals,” said one.
SA has previously signed nuclear co-operation agreements with other countries, including Russia. The government’s Integrated Resource Plan 2010, which sets out SA’s energy mix to the year 2030, has not yet been approved by the Cabinet and there is no clarity on how nuclear power would be funded.
Estimates for the capital cost of 9.6GW of nuclear energy range from R400bn to R1-trillion.
Rosatom said the agreement was for the “actual joint construction” of nuclear plants. It provided for collaboration in the industry, including the construction of a Russian technology-based multipurpose research reactor, assistance in the development of South African nuclear infrastructure and the education of nuclear specialists at Russian universities.
It would contribute to the creation of a new, highly skilled workforce and allow South African companies to participate in Rosatom’s projects in third countries, the company said.
Mr Kirienko said the agreement would create the conditions for thousands of new jobs in SA and for at least $10bn worth of orders to be placed with South African firms.
Rosatom’s statement quoted Ms Joemat-Pettersson as saying that “co-operation with Russia will allow us to implement our ambitious plans for the creation by 2030 of 9.6GW of new nuclear capacities based on modern and safe technologies”.
Nuclear Africa CEO Kelvin Kemm said the statement was unclear, as Rosatom did not say that SA had signed a procurement deal with Russia. An announcement of that magnitude would be expected to be made in SA by Mr Zuma. It would also have to involve other government departments, including the Treasury.
Dr Kemm said the emphasis on localisation in the statement was important. The government had decided in 2008 not to award a turnkey nuclear contract where money and jobs would have flowed out of the country.
SA’s recent discussions with Russian and other nuclear technology states was about agreements to share technology, Dr Kemm said. SA had skills in nuclear power, but needed to increase capacity so that it could supply its own nuclear needs, and export capacity to other countries.
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