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No nuke build agreement with Russia: Govt

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No agreement has been entered into with Russia for the construction of nuclear power plants, the energy department said on Wednesday.

The document recently signed between South Africa and Russia was an inter-governmental agreement — one of six sought from Russia and five other countries to determine which technologies suited South Africa’s nuclear build programme best, deputy director general nuclear Zizamele Mbambo told reporters in Pretoria.

“We are at a stage where we are preparing for the procurement process. I need to highlight that the procurement process has not started,” he said.

The department was looking at a new nuclear build programme to generate a total of 9600MW of baseload electricity.

Mbambo said South Africa had agreements with a number of countries.

“South Africa has got nuclear co-operation with a number of countries… [including] the Russian Federation, and the United States. We are planning also to sign an inter-governmental agreement with the French, right now in October.”

Further, there were plans to sign such agreements with China and Japan.

“We need to see what each country’s offerings are, and then we… will know what each particular country has to offer,” he said.

The agreements would create a foundation for the actual procurement process, which had yet to start.

Energy department acting director general Wolsey Barnard noted that South Africa also had such an agreement with a sixth country, South Korea.

On Monday last week, the department and Russia’s atomic energy agency Rosatom issued separate but identical statements that South Africa had struck a “deal” for the construction of up to eight nuclear power plants.

Responding to a question on Wednesday, Barnard denied this statement had been a mistake. There had, however, been a “misunderstanding” of the statement.

“No, it wasn’t a mistake,” he told reporters.

“Just in terms of where this misunderstanding comes from, each country has its own technology. And to procure… for 9600MW, you’re going to need to utilise the different technologies that are being offered by the various vendors.”

This technology would differ from country to country.

“So, with respect to the Russians, their technology that they’re using… basically is for that 9600MW capacity. That will require eight generators… That’s the clarification around why it was stated in such a way,” he said.

The agreement that was signed was only for future development.

“There is nothing procured from Russia; that’s what they can offer South Africa.”

His department was investigating a number of nuclear build technology options.

“It’s a process of investigation… we can’t make a decision if we don’t have the full picture. That’s what we’re doing now,” he said.

In a statement on Wednesday, the department said with regards to the nuclear build programme, “no information of relevance to the public will be withheld”. SAPA

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