Cape Town - South Africa signed nuclear co-operation agreements with South Korea and the US before signing the Russian agreement – and will sign similar agreements with France, China and Japan before it decides on which country’s technology will be selected to build the new fleet of nuclear reactors.
These agreements did not bind South Africa into buying reactors from any country, but merely showed “what was on offer” from nuclear vendor countries, the Department of Energy said in a briefing on Wednesday.
Zizamele Mbambo, the department’s deputy director general who heads the nuclear section, said the content of the offers would be used to lay the foundation for the procurement process.
The nature of the process – whether an open tender or a government to government agreement – had not yet been decided.Wolsey Barnard, the Department of Energy’s acting director general in charge of energy programmes, said: “We can’t make a decision if we don’t have the full picture… we have not procured yet.”
The agreements with South Korea and the US were signed in November and December by former energy minister Ben Martins.
Last week the Energy Department and Russia’s atomic energy agency Rosatom both issued identical statements which said South Africa had signed a nuclear deal to build eight reactors. The department then withdrew the statement.
Barnard said issuing the statement had not been a mistake, merely a “misunderstanding”. It was not yet known how many reactors would be built, as nuclear reactor technologies differed enormously, Barnard said.
Technology from some vendor countries, such as Russia, would translate South Africa’s proposed 9.6 GW nuclear energy programme into six reactors, while other technology would translate into 10 reactors, Barnard said.
He dismissed speculation that the meetings between President Jacob Zuma and Russian President Vladimir Putin were an indication that the country favoured Russia’s technology, saying “meetings between presidents of two countries happen constantly”, particularly between those which had energy-related agreements.
Officials were coy about the cost of the nuclear programme, saying they would not be able to make cost determinations until they knew what technology they would use.
However, they indicated that building the nuclear reactors would make a break from Eskom’s practice of building, owning and operating the country’s power stations.
This was in keeping with Zuma’s state of the nation speech in June where he said state-owned entities would have to “reform and refocus”.
The department said it was going ahead with the nuclear plan, in spite of what the National Development Plan (NDP) said.
The NDP, published in 2012, said it was vital South Africa investigate whether nuclear energy was financially viable, and if it were too expensive, the country must develop a “plan B” to generate electricity.
It said the plan to build several new nuclear power stations was the most expensive project South Africa had considered, and would require a “level of investment unprecedented in South Africa”. Although nuclear power would give South Africa a low-carbon alternative to coal, the implications of the nuclear plan needed “thorough investigation”, including the cost.
However, Barnard said the NDP merely “gave direction”, and did not make decisions.