File photo: Denis Farrell

Parliament - The energy department was not prepared to attach a price tag to the country’s nuclear build programme as officials briefed MPs on Tuesday.

“As a department with National Treasury we have done extensive studies. We’ve done the financing models for the programme,” said Zizamele Mbambo, the department’s deputy director general for nuclear, while briefing Parliament’s portfolio committee on energy.

“All of this work is informing the government decision making process . Government will then be in a position to say this informaiton is sufficient for making a decision. But…it would not be in the best interests of the government to start to release this information while its still undergoing the necessary work…”

Mbambo was briefing the committee two weeks after energy minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson announced that South Africa would conclude its nuclear energy deal by year end.

Several countries have shown interest in providing the technology for the fleet of nuclear power stations which are expected to generate around 9600 megawatts of electricity.

Inter-governmental agreements have been signed with the Russian Federation, the People’s Republic of China, France, the USA and South Korea. Negotiations for two similiar agreements with Japan and Canada were “at an advanced stage”.

Mbambo told MPs despite “speculation” that a deal had been struck with Russia, the preferred bidder had not been decided on.

“This is not the case. Government only signed an intergovernmental agreement,” he said.

“In future, once the procurement process has been launched and a final outcome has come, a decision will come as to who is the strategic partner for South Africa to implement the nuclear build programme.”

Democratic Alliance MP Dean Mackay insisted the process was flawed, and demanded answers on the cost of the nuclear build programme.

“How do we build something if we don’t know the cost and we don’t know where the money is going to come from?” Mackay said.

Mbambo said the exact costs could not be determined before a preferred bidder was chosen.

“You’ll only know the actual costs once you’ve got the information from the bidders who are telling you the exact cost of their technologies. We need to be cautious in doing that,” said Mbambo.

Industry experts believe the nuclear build programme could cost government up to R1 trillion.

On when MPs would have sight of the contents of the intergovernmental agreements, Mbambo said: “Indeed, our minister has committed that in the next few weeks these inter-governmental agreements will be presented to cabinet and the parliamentary process associated therewith will then come from it.”