Workers pass by a new power unit under construction at the Novovoronezh NPP-2 nuclear power station, operated by OAO Rosenergoatom, a unit of Rosatom Corp., in Novovoronezh, Russia, on Wednesday, June 3, 2015. Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to help Egypt develop a nuclear-power industry after signing an accord with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to build a plant for electricity generation. Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

Johannesburg - Russia’s state-owned Rosatom said it may join forces with South African companies to develop a nuclear power industry in the country that could be rolled out across Africa.

“What we are targeting is to build South Africa as a nuclear cluster of nuclear industries so that we can use our partners and our partnership for our expansion into Africa,” Viktor Polikarpov, Rosatom’s vice-president of sub-Saharan Africa, said in an interview on Tuesday in Cape Town.

South Africa last year approved a plan for the country to develop as much as 9 600 megawatts of nuclear capacity by 2030. President Jacob Zuma has said he wants to reduce the country’s reliance on coal and ease chronic power shortages. Critics of the nuclear power plan, which could cost as much as $100 billion, say it’s unaffordable.

Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson last week said South Africa “once again stands at a crossroad of a nuclear new-build program procurement process”. The country plans to send out requests for proposals that will indicate the price, pace and scale of the programme. “We will only implement what our country can afford,” she said.

Nuclear cluster

After the first nuclear project is developed in South Africa, local companies could partner with Rosatom to build other plants, Polikarpov said.

“The process is slow, but it doesn’t frighten us. I’m very much upbeat about our participation in the bid,” he said. “We have to be patient.”

Rosatom can offer financing options, including a contract with a state-export credit offered to the government of South Africa, a buyer-owner operator agreement, a public-private partnership, or a combination of those elements, according to Polikarpov. International sanctions on Russia could limit its options for support.

“The situation in Russia has deteriorated due to the sanctions and we are no longer capable of performing in the same way as being sponsored by the government,” he said.

South Africa currently has one nuclear power plant - Koeberg - outside Cape Town.