NU­CLEAR FAM­ILY

In this ex­tract from a new book by in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist Pi­eter-Louis My­burgh, he lays bare the Gupta fam­ily’s and Duduzane Zuma’s in­vest­ment in ura­nium min­ing – and how it co­in­cides with the in­volve­ment of the Rus­sian state-owned nu­clear en­ergy cor­por

CityPress - - Business -

An interesting as­pect of the Gup­tas’ ac­qui­si­tion of the Do­min­ion ura­nium mine is the tan­gen­tial in­volve­ment of Rus­sian state-owned nu­clear en­ergy cor­po­ra­tion Rosatom in Ura­nium One.

Rosatom has be­come in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked to fears that South Africa’s pend­ing nu­clear power plant ex­pan­sion pro­gramme is drenched in large-scale cor­rup­tion.

In June 2009, as the Gup­tas’ Oak­bay Re­sources and En­ergy was wrap­ping up its pur­chase agree­ment with Ura­nium One to buy the Do­min­ion mine, Rosatom min­ing sub­sidiary AtomRedMetZoloto (ARMZ Ura­nium Hold­ing Co) ob­tained 16.6% of Ura­nium One.

The trans­ac­tion would be the start of ARMZ’s whole­sale takeover of the com­pany.

In 2010, ARMZ be­came the ma­jor­ity share­holder in Ura­nium One, be­fore buy­ing all of the Cana­dian com­pany’s re­main­ing shares in 2013.

In other words, the Gup­tas’ pur­chase of the Do­min­ion mine from Ura­nium One co­in­cided with Rosatom’s drive to be­come the sole share­holder of Ura­nium One.

What this means is that Rosatom and the Gup­tas, in all like­li­hood, be­came ac­quainted with one an­other some­time dur­ing 2009, which happened to be Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s first year in of­fice.

And as we all know, un­der Zuma’s rule the South African gov­ern­ment reignited its plans for in­vest­ing in new nu­clear power plants.

At the 2009 UN Cli­mate Change Con­fer­ence in Copen­hagen, Zuma told del­e­gates: “With fi­nan­cial and tech­ni­cal sup­port from de­vel­oped coun­tries, South Africa ... will be able to re­duce [car­bon] emis­sions by 34% be­low ‘busi­ness-as-usual’ lev­els by 2020 and by 42% by 2025.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Rand Daily Mail, “his an­nounce­ment took both lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional com­men­ta­tors by sur­prise, but it re­vealed Zuma’s nu­clear am­bi­tions”.

His am­bi­tions were con­firmed in 2011 when then en­ergy min­is­ter Dipuo Peters an­nounced that gov­ern­ment planned to is­sue a ten­der for the con­struc­tion of six new nu­clear power plants.

It was sub­se­quently widely re­ported that the pro­gramme could cost the coun­try as much as R1 tril­lion, lead­ing critics to ask how South Africa would af­ford it.

Zuma’s gov­ern­ment did not seem to share con­cerns over the af­ford­abil­ity of the new nu­clear power plants. In Septem­ber 2014, Rosatom an­nounced that it had signed a “strate­gic part­ner­ship” agree­ment with the South African gov­ern­ment that en­sured the coun­try would use Rus­sian re­ac­tors in the up­com­ing build pro­gramme.

See­ing as gov­ern­ment had been nowhere near to start­ing a com­pet­i­tive bid process for the nu­clear con­tract, as is re­quired by the South African Con­sti­tu­tion, Rosatom’s an­nounce­ment shocked and an­gered the na­tion. The out­rage was so im­mense that both Rosatom and the South African gov­ern­ment later back­tracked on the an­nounce­ment, claim­ing that gov­ern­ment would sign sim­i­lar agree­ments with other po­ten­tial bid­ders.

But the dam­age had been done. To­day, many South Africans re­main highly sus­pi­cious of gov­ern­ment’s plans to build the nu­clear plants, es­pe­cially when it comes to Rosatom’s pos­si­ble par­tic­i­pa­tion in the pro­gramme.

How­ever, if the deal does fi­nally go ahead, the de­mand for ura­nium in South Africa will certainly climb to un­prece­dented heights. The Gup­tas’ Shiva Ura­nium – in which Duduzane Zuma has a size­able stake – will be per­fectly po­si­tioned to sup­ply gov­ern­ment with ura­nium for the new power plants.

Critics of the pend­ing nu­clear power pro­gramme have openly asked whether the Zuma ad­min­is­tra­tion’s en­thu­si­asm for nu­clear power is not per­haps rooted in the fact that the pres­i­dent’s son and the Gup­tas stand to ben­e­fit from it.

Vet­eran jour­nal­ist Al­lis­ter Sparks was but one of many who be­lieve the Gup­tas are be­hind Zuma’s nu­clear am­bi­tions. “Nu­clear power sta­tions re­quire en­riched ura­nium to op­er­ate and, with ad­vance knowledge of the pres­i­dent’s in­ten­tions (Duduzane surely told his part­ners what daddy was up to), the Gup­tas stood to make a killing,” Sparks wrote in Busi­ness Day in 2016.

As long as the Gupta–Zuma net­work re­mains in­tact, the po­ten­tial dis­as­ter of a fi­nan­cially crip­pling nu­clear deal re­mains on the hori­zon.

The Repub­lic of Gupta: A Story of State Cap­ture by Pi­eter-Louis My­burgh, Pen­guin Ran­dom House, 308 pages, R260

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