Johannesburg - Eskom expects to issue a request for proposals for the nuclear build programme in the first half of next year, the power utility said on Wednesday.

Spokesman Khulu Phasiwe said the power utility would issue requests for information today to test the market. Phasiwe would, however, not be specific on the timelines.

“The [request for proposals[ is not entirely up to Eskom. National Treasury must also satisfy itself about the process.

"The request for information does not need the approval of the Treasury. The most important thing at the moment is to ascertain if there is appetite in the market,” he said.

The mooted procurement of nuclear power was thrust into the spotlight after it emerged during a Western Cape High Court case this week that the Minister of Energy, Tina Joemat-Pettersson, had signed a determination for the procurement of 9 600MW of nuclear energy on the basis of the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP).

Environmental justice groups Earthlife Africa Johannesburg and the Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute went to court to question the legality of the nuclear procurement programme. The court postponed the matter to February.

Joemat-Pettersson’s decision has raised the ire of the renewable energy industry, with the South African Renewable Energy Council chairperson, Brenda Martin, saying the timing of the determination was baffling, given the ongoing public consultation process to update the IRP, which was promulgated in 2011.

“The draft version of the [Department of Energy’s] plan seriously questions whether nuclear power has a role to play in South Africa’s future generation mix with, at best, a requirement for additional nuclear power in 2037,” said Martin. In the face of the criticism of the nuclear programme, the department yesterday moved to defend the integrity of the mooted nuclear programme.

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“The department wishes to reiterate that the South African government, including its state owned enterprises, have not entered into any deal or signed any contract for the procurement of nuclear power.

"The procurement process for the nuclear new build programme has not commenced.

“A fair, transparent, equitable, competitive and open procurement process will be followed in line with the constitution and the decisions of the cabinet.

"Eskom has been designated the procurer, owner and operator of nuclear power plants with (the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation) as an owner and operator of front-end fuel facilities, including the multi-purpose reactor,” it said. The department punted the nuclear programme, saying the programme would lead to job creation, develop skills, create industries, and contribute to the country's knowledge economy.”

The cabinet last year designated the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) as the implementing agent for the nuclear new build programme. This was meant to give Eskom time to focus on the Medupi, Kusile and Ingula projects and the energy problems the country was facing at the time.

It has since given that role to Eskom and has designated Necsa as the owner operator and procurer for nuclear fuel cycle and multi-purpose reactor.