Nuclear body anxiously preparing for SA move

Matthew le Cordeur

Cape Town – The Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa (Niasa) is not sitting by idly while National Treasury and the Department of Energy mull over the various options for the country’s controversial 9 600 MW nuclear build programme.

While Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson said she would announce the successful bidder at the end of the financial year (March 31 2016), there is concern that the interdepartmental team could delay the process, which has been shrouded in secrecy.

Niasa MD Knox Msebenzi told Fin24 on Tuesday that he did not know for certain when the announcement would be made, regardless of the minister’s statement.

“We are as anxious as anybody to know when (the announcement is) going to happen,” said Msebenzi.

All the main nuclear energy bidders, like Rosatom, are a part of Niasa, but so too are the main construction companies in SA, who could score big tenders once more clarity is given on the way forward.

“We have decided not to fold our arms and say: ‘we are waiting for government’. Actually, we are doing certain things in anticipation (and we are) also engaging with government and saying: ‘perhaps this is what needs to happen’.

“(We are) engaging and making sure that it is a two-way process,” he said.

Speaking on the sidelines of the SA Nuclear Supply Chain Conference in Cape Town, Msebenzi gave some insights into how the process, the details of which are highly confidential, is unfolding.

So far, intergovernmental agreements have been signed with Russia, France, South Korea, China and the US. These countries took part in a vendor parade with the Department of Energy last year.

Conducted out of sight of media (except for journalist Rowan Philp who sneaked in), the the bidders showcased their nuclear energy products and gave case studies of previous projects.

Now, said Msebenzi, the interdepartmental team is studying these ideas and concepts while also looking at various funding models and localisation methods (to increase local involvement).

“(During this process), government is at liberty to use any expert or consultant in terms of advising them on what is possible,” he said.

“Some studies have been done to determine what South Africa’s capability is in terms of skills and industrial expertise to be able to scale up to nuclear.

“In fact, I remember that a company like WorleyParsons was contracted to do a study as to what is possible and the Department of Energy has recently done the economic impact of the nuclear programme,” he said.

“So, there are various sources of information that are informing the government in terms of their decision-making process.”

Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene announced in his mini budget speech that he would allocate R200m to the Department of Energy for a team to investigate the nuclear new build programme.

Critics say the process has been done in secret and that it should be transparent and open to the public.

Earthlife Africa Jhb and the Southern African Faith Communities' Environment Institute (Safcei) approached courts in October to challenge plans to procure nuclear reactors.

They said “the decision to proceed with procuring these nuclear power plants… and to have concluded such procurement in the next few months, has occurred without any of the necessary statutory and constitutional decisions having been lawfully taken”.

Safcei spokesperson Liziwe McDaid said “what we have is a complete lack of transparency”.

Democratic Alliance MP and shadow energy minister Gordon Mackay said in August that the Department of Energy will not be releasing the International Atomic Energy Association’s (IAEA's) South Africa report 2013 by the end of August, as promised.

“The only logical conclusion for such unremitting secrecy is that the report’s findings are damning and do not support the ANC’s obsessive commitment to nuclear energy,” he said.

“The DA believes that any action taken by government ought to be conducted in an honest and transparent manner. Until the IAEA report is made public, an informed decision on the procurement of nuclear cannot be taken.”