ENERGY Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson signed a nuclear co-operation agreement with France on Tuesday, which the government said “initiates the preparatory phase for the possible deployment of French nuclear technology”.
The government has committed to installing 9,6GW of nuclear power over the next 20 years despite not knowing the cost and against advice from its own energy planners who urged last year that the decision be delayed or abandoned if it proved to be too expensive.
Nuclear vendor countries are now lining up to sign agreements in preparation for the procurement process.
A similar agreement that was signed with the Russian Federation three weeks ago triggered a furore when Russian nuclear company Rosatom said that a procurement deal had been concluded.
The statement was echoed exactly by the Department of Energy, which later issued another statement to clarify that no procurement deal had yet been struck.
The announcement of energy agreements by the department led Parliament’s energy committee to resolve to call Joemat-Pettersson to appear before it to explain what was happening with the agreements that are being signed.
MPs complained that they were being left in the dark and were hearing about the deals only in the media.
ANC MP Thandi Mahambehlala accused the department of leaking the news to the media. “We are still busy digesting Russia and now we hear about France,” she said.
DA MP Lance Greyling said a timeline was needed for when these agreements would be tabled before Parliament in line with the constitutional requirements.
“Then we can deal with the suspicions raised over the deal by the media and by myself. We need clarity before we can move forward,” he said.
Committee chairman Fikile Majola said he had wanted Joemat-Pettersson to appear before it this week, but she was out of the country.
“We will find the correct time for her to come tell us what is going on with Russia and France,” he said.
French multinational, Areva – which is majority State-owned, said it “welcomed the intergovernmental agreement”, which it said was “an important factor for the future of new nuclear build projects in SA”.
The company has a long history in SA as a supplier for Eskom’s Koeberg nuclear power plant for the past 40 years.
The French bilateral agreement was in the works before French President François Hollande visited SA a year ago.
A third nuclear co-operation agreement is set to be signed next month with China. Nuclear Energy Corporation of SA head of corporate services Xolisa Mabhongo said these countries were considered to be the most serious contenders for the project.
While the agreements signed so far were not commercial agreements, Mabhongo said they would not be made public as they “contain proprietary information”.
“The agreements say what each country would offer. Then there will be a procurement process and that is when government will look into all the details.”
Mabhongo said the agreements contained specific details about the vendor country’s offering. These would inform decision-making in the Cabinet subcommittee on energy security.
“The committee will then be able to see what kind of procurement will be done. We will look at the different offerings and decide upon the specifications,” Mabhongo said.