Russia's Rosatom Remains 'Interested Vendor' as SA Revives Nuclear Build
- Russian nuclear power company Rosatom has said it remains an "interested vendor" for South Africa's revived nuclear power programme.
- Rosatom was a leading candidate to build a fleet of power stations under the country's previous controversial nuclear plan, which was halted by a court ruling in 2017.
- The energy group says that it has been "monitoring the nuclear developments in South Africa from the sidelines" and has larger ambitions that just nuclear power.
- Russia's state-owned atomic energy agency Rosatom has said it remains an "interested vendor" as South Africa restarts its scaled-down nuclear power procurement programme.
Sub-Saharan Africa remains a "priority" area for it, said Rosatom, adding it was "actively working" with several African countries "to assist them in reaching their nuclear ambitions".
The group is constructing the 4 800 MW El Dabaa Nuclear Power Plant in Egypt, at an estimated cost of $25 billion. When finished, it will be Africa's second operational nuclear power plant after Koeberg near Cape Town.
South Africa's new nuclear plan is based on the 2019 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), the state's energy blueprint for the next decade. It says the government must "commence preparations" for a new nuclear build programme of 2 500 MW "at a pace and scale that the country can afford".
While the 2 500 MW in the IRP is a significant downgrade from the previous version of the blueprint, which called for a fleet of new power stations producing 9 600 MW, it would still more than double SA's nuclear capacity.
"Rosatom remains an interested vendor for the potential nuclear new build programme in the country and would be happy to participate in an open, transparent and competitive procurement procedure," the group told Fin24 this week.
"We truly believe that nuclear plays an important role in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals not only in Africa but across the globe."
South Africa's new procurement process is still at an early stage. While SA's energy regulator recently approved the state's new plan for 2 500 MW of power, the Department of Energy has not yet issued any requests for proposals.
Last time around
Rosatom was closely involved in South Africa's previous nuclear plan.
SA concluded two intergovernmental agreements (IGAs) with Russia laying out a strategic nuclear partnership between the two countries in 2004 and 2014. Others IGAs were also signed with the US and South Korea.
The Russian energy company was seen as a leading candidate to clinch the 9 600 MW deal. But just months after media reports suggested Rosatom had gone as far as submitting a bid, the Western Cape High Court ruled the state's procurement process had been unconstitutional and unlawful.
The court found that the second agreement reached between was South Africa and Russia was so specific that it amounted to firm commitment.
"The Russian IGA stands well outside the category of a broad nuclear cooperation agreement," wrote Judge Lee Bozalek in his ruling in April of 2017. "At the very least, [it] sets the parties well on their way to a binding, exclusive agreement in relation to the procurement of new reactor plants from that particular country."
While Bozalek did not question the state's authority to enter into nuclear power agreements, he said the agreement concluded with Russia in 2014 "clearly required to be scrutinised and debated by the legislature".
As the agreement had been tabled in Parliament without being debated in Parliament, he declared it unlawful. The agreements signed with the US and South Korea were also declared invalid.
The ruling put an end to plans to procure 9 600 MW of power. If the state wanted to procure nuclear power, it would have to restart the whole process.
Rosatom told Fin24 that while it had been "monitoring the nuclear developments in South Africa from the sidelines", its ambitions go "far beyond nuclear technologies".
"We are actively exploring and promoting renewable and clean energy sources such as wind, waste to energy and hydropower," it said. It was also interested in working with African countries on nuclear medicine centres and "multi-purpose irradiation centres" for food security.
The Russian company said that it is at the forefront of the development of small modular reactors, a cheaper and smaller type of reactor that backers say would be easier to construct than major plants.
While the 2019 IRP does not specifically say SA should build modular reactors, it states the country must "take into account technological developments in the nuclear space".
Rosatom said its subsidiary, Rusatom Overseas, has been licensed as competent to construct Russia's first land-based small modular reactor.
"The plant, based on the RITM-200 reactor design, is scheduled to be commissioned in the Russian North (Yakutia Republic) by 2028," it said.