Melanie Gosling

THE SA Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) has said there is no deal between Russia and South Africa to buy nuclear reactors.

Necsa’s group executive of corporate services, Xolisa Mabhongo, who is in Vienna as part of the South African delegation to the International Atomic Energy Agency conference, said South Africa had merely signed a “standard inter-governmental agreement” with Russia this week, and would sign similar agreements with other nuclear vendor countries.

South Africa still had to go through a tender process for the nuclear procurement programme and a signed deal with any country was “still a long way off”.

“This is not a contract or an agreement to buy Russian nuclear technology. It’s just a standard agreement that we do with nuclear vendor countries. The next one to be signed is with France, and then China. There are other prospective vendor countries too – the US, Japan, Korea – and there are different types of agreements,” Mabhongo said.

“In any case there has to be a tender process before South Africa buys reactors. This should happen in the first half of next year. Any deal’s still a long way off.”

This comes after Russia’s Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation announced on Monday that it had signed an agreement to sell South Africa eight nuclear reactors in a $50 billion (R555bn) strategic partnership between the two countries. The Department of Energy put out a statement on Monday evening referring to the agreement, but recalled it shortly afterwards. The statement said the agreement, signed by Rosatom director Sergey Kirienko and Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson, “lays the foundation for the large-scale nuclear power plants procurement and development programme of South Africa based on the construction in RSA of new nuclear power plants with Russian V V E R reactors with a total installed capacity of up to 9.6 GW (up to eight units)...”

It quoted Joemat-Pettersson as saying: “... I am sure co-operation with Russia will allow us to implement our ambitious plans for the creation by 2030 of 9.6GW of new nuclear capacities.”

The department recalled the press statement minutes after it had been sent out.

Mabhongo said yesterday the Energy Department would be issuing another statement about the nature of the |agreement.

Rosatom’s claim about a Russian nuclear deal caused a flurry of reaction.

DA energy spokesman Lance Greyling called for an urgent sitting of the energy portfolio committee. “Government’s current silence is unacceptable… the deliberations of the inter-ministerial committee on energy security, chaired by the president and where |the nuclear programme was extensively debated, must be made public as soon as possible,” Greyling said.

He said for the minister to bind South Africa to any nuclear procurement agreement would require authorisation from the Presidency.

Environmental justice lobby group Earthlife Africa said the reported deal came at a time when “public distrust around the rumoured deal has been gaining momentum in South Africa, mostly because of the secrecy and because of the enormous costs involved”.

Greenpeace climate and energy manager Melita Steele said: “South Africa needs electricity now – not in 10 years’ time and with a trillion rand price tag.” “Renewable energy can be built quickly, it is clean, much cheaper,” Greenpeace spokesman Mbong Akiy said.