Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson. File photo: Kenneth Klemens

Cape Town - Cabinet on Thursday confirmed that Eskom will lead the country’s nuclear power procurement drive, a day after the release of damning observations against the utility by former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela.

In a statement on its two-day meeting this week, Cabinet put the decision down to Eskom’s three decades of successfully running the Koeberg nuclear power plant, the only one in Africa.

Cabinet, which met over two days this week, also approved the designation of the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation as the owner and operator of a planned multi-purpose reactor and nuclear fuel cycle.

Lastly, it said, the department of energy will serve as the co-ordinator of the nuclear build programme which is aimed at adding 9 600 kilowatts to the national energy grid.

It emerged a month ago that government was mulling shifting the responsibility for launching the procurement process from the department of energy to the power utility, and a decision was first signalled by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan during his medium-term budget policy statement last week.

Tellingly, however, the MTBPS contradicts Eskom CEO Brian Molefe’s insistence that nuclear was the only option that could avert another power supply crisis in the near future. It noted that sound local research had shown that renewable energy could meet the country’s baseload energy requirements.

This suggests that the procurement process could see further tension between Molefe and the Finance Minister who recently fell out publicly over Eskom’s contract with the Gupta-owned Tegeta mining company.

Madonsela’s report questions the legitimacy of the Eskom board and Molefe’s “cosy relationship” with the Gupta brothers and could dent the utility’s credibility as it proceeds to initiate an already contested nuclear build.

Molefe on Thursday offered to resign but denied wrongdoing and accused Madonsela of failing to give him an opportunity to respond to the allegations.

Cabinet also received a progress report on the overdue revision of the country’s Integrated Resource Plan, which at least one of its members, Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor, has argued needs to be completed before a Request for Proposals on building up to eight new nuclear reactors is issued.

But Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson appeared to disagree, telling a media briefing last month that government would proceed on the basis of the existing blueprint until an updated version was in place.

Cabinet described the review process as seeking to balance a range of objectives to ensure adequate energy supply while keeping costs down, promoting job creation and diversifying supply.

“The first milestone which is the compilation of assumptions to be used in the IRP has been completed, pending public consultation. The second milestone on the development of the base case which is a least cost plan has been completed. The third milestone which is a scenario analysis is underway. And the fourth milestone, is policy adjustment,” the statement added.