Saturday Star

SA playing Russian roulette with its nuclear procuremen­t push


ENERGY Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson finally tabled a series of the Intergover nmental Framework Agreements for nuclear procuremen­t in Parliament on June 15.

They are between South Africa and the US, China, South Korea and France. The public is at long last privy to South Africa’s behindclos­ed-door undertakin­gs on nuclear power.

The agreements have been long sought after by various civil society groups, NGOs and political parties who have attempted to get a hold of them through the Promotion of Access to Informatio­n Act (PAIA).

The groups maintained the secrecy of the agreements violated section 217 of the constituti­on, which requires government procuremen­t is fair, equitable, transparen­t, competitiv­e and cost-effective.

The Department of Energy denied the requests for the agreements arguing that sharing the informatio­n may impede the competitiv­e nature of the procuremen­t process. But, as the now public agreements reveal, it is doubtful whether the procuremen­t process has been competitiv­e at all. The content shows an obvious preference towards Russia, indicating a more than likely “rigged” approach.

Environmen­tal justice group Earthlife Africa Johannesbu­rg and the Russian environmen­tal group, Ecodefense, leaked the Russian agreement to the media in February this year.

The Russian deal, in particular, had already led to a public outcry last year because Rosatom (the Russian state-owned nuclear co-operation) published a notice of a “done deal” on its website.

Rosatom then swiftly removed the publicatio­n from its website and the Energy Department began a process of vendor workshops with other countries.

Rosatom’s announceme­nt was also accompanie­d by President Jacob Zuma’s discreet visit to Russia and meeting with his Russian counterpar­t, Vladimir Putin.

The events led to the suspicion the vendor workshops were a boxticking exercise and that South Africa’s most expensive procuremen­t process to date has been profoundly unconstitu­tional.

Leading to further speculatio­n that Rosatom, without a doubt, will be the preferred bidder is the glaringly obvious amount of detail contained within the Russian agreement compared to the others.

In a nutshell, the agreement with Russia shows a commitment from South Africa to specific Russian technology at an identified location, Thyspunt in the Eastern Cape, and appears to exclude other bidders for a period of 20 years.

The agreement also promises the Russians favourable treatment in the form of tax breaks and regulatory concession­s. Russia will also be granted freedom from liability in the case of a nuclear accident.

The other agreements pale in comparison. There is evidence that that the other agreements tabled to Parliament are not the right ones, or the vendor workshops did not result in signed agreements.

For example, while a vendor parade workshop with Japan did take place, no agreement has been made public. Also missing is Canada’s. Most concerning is the fact that the agreement with the US was signed in Pretoria in August 1995.

Not surprising­ly nuclear lobbyists like Kelvin Kemm, the Nuclear Africa chief executive, are recommendi­ng Rosatom’s VVER and Westinghou­se’s AP1000 reactors to the government. But their recommenda­tions convenient­ly omit key infor mation and unscrupulo­usly support the government’s determinat­ion to procure 9 600MW of nuclear power from Russia for an estimated R1 trillion.

Westinghou­se is a US-based company owned by Japan’s Toshiba and it’s vague whether the responsibl­e vendor country is Japan or the US. If it is Japan, then procuremen­t cannot proceed since there is no intergover­nmental agreement. If it is the US, procuremen­t also cannot proceed because the agreement with the US was signed in 1995, before the AP1000 reactor existed.

Both the Russian and the US reactors are new and remain untested. Hence, making arrangemen­ts to procure either reactor before any history of their economic and safety viability doesn’t make sense. It is also not in line with the recommenda­tions of the National Developmen­t Plan, which calls for thorough investigat­ions before a procuremen­t decision is taken.

Further, it is unlikely either reactor will be able to begin operation as early as 2023 and solve the electricit­y crisis, as the government wants, because these reactors are more liable to constructi­on delays.

For example, in 2010 Russia signed a contract with Turkey to build four nuclear reactors at the Akkuyu site. This was a Build Own Operate (BOO) deal which means Russia was solely responsibl­e for providing the finance for constructi­on, operation and selling the electricit­y to the Turkish government. Five years later constructi­on of the reactors has yet to begin.

The pro-nuclear lobbyists support nuclear power as suitable for the needs of developing countries, but there is a much better solution.

According to the Internatio­nal Energy Agency (IEA), in 2030 renewable energy will meet up to 30 percent of the world’s energy needs.

It’s also worth mentioning the nuclear power industry has never been anywhere close to such numbers. According to the BP Statistica­l Review of World Energy, the share of nuclear contributi­on to the world’s primary energy source has fallen from 7.6 percent in 2000 to 4.5 percent in 2012. Today only 183 more reactors are planned compared with the 388 reactors operating. This means the world is moving away from nuclear power towards renewables, so why should South Africa be any different?

Nuclear power will not solve the electricit­y crisis. It is too expensive and will only result in increasing energy poverty by making electricit­y a totally unaffordab­le service for the majority of the population.

South Africa will only be able to afford nuclear power if it is at least partially financed by a foreign power. The sheer expense and the risky contracts involved have given the procuremen­t a very small support base among the South African public.

The only plausible reason why it is still being considered is because of a loyalty between the Russian and South African heads of state. As the agreements show, the odds are most definitely in favour of the Russians.

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