South Africa could restart a procurement process for its nuclear expansion project as soon as next month. Photo: Bloomberg

JOHANNESBURG - South Africa could restart a procurement process for its nuclear expansion project as soon as next month, but the government has yet to determine the exact timing, the chairperson of South Africa’s state nuclear agency Necsa said on Friday.

There are plans to build several new nuclear reactors with a combined capacity of 9600MW, which could be one of the world’s biggest nuclear deals in decades. The plans, which aim to help resolve chronic power shortages, were disrupted this year when the High Court ruled that a nuclear co-operation pact with Russia was unlawful, after which the government began to draw up new pacts with countries with nuclear expertise.

Officials have made progress on the nuclear project since the court ruling, selecting potential sites for the new power stations, South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) chairperson Kelvin Kemm said. “The procurement process could restart as soon as next month,” Kemm said on the sidelines of the World Nuclear Association conference in London.

He said South Africa’s state utility Eskom and Necsa were ready to proceed. “All that needs to happen is for the politicians to press the restart button,” he said. Kemm said officials had sought environment ministry approval for one of the sites, at Thyspunt in the Eastern Cape, and approval could be granted in the next couple of months.

The next step would probably be for South Africa to issue a Request-for-Proposal (RFP) to the world’s top nuclear reactor firms, all of which had responded to the government’s previous Request-for-Information, he said.

Likely takers

Nuclear reactor makers including Russia’s Rosatom, South Korea’s Kepco, France’s EDF and Areva, Toshiba-owned Westinghouse and China’s CGN are eyeing the project, which could be worth tens of billions of dollars.

A senior executive from Russian state firm Rosatom said his firm was keen to win the contract and was ready to use a business model suitable to South Africa. Officials say the nuclear project, which is backed by President Jacob Zuma, is needed to help ensure stable power supplies and diversify the country’s energy mix. Zuma’s opponents have said the project could be used as a conduit for corruption and some investors say the project is too big and expensive for a developing economy.

Kemm said South Africa aimed to achieve 50% local input to the project to lift the economy, he said, and ordering several plants at once should bring down costs.