France remains confident the South African government will go ahead with its project to build 9,600MW of extra nuclear power generation – despite the huge political controversy surrounding the plans.

Dr. Pascal Colombani, Special Envoy of French President Francois Hollande for the nuclear partnership with South Africa, expects the long-awaited invitation from Pretoria to nuclear countries to submit their bids, to come anytime between now and Spring. He said France had expected this “Request for Proposals” (RFPs) to be issued to France and the other bidding countries by the end of March or beginning of April.

The South African nuclear proposal, which envisages up to 9,600MW of extra electricity being generated by between six and eight new reactors, has reportedly been caught up in the political feud between President Jacob Zuma and Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan who reputedly believes the country cannot afford it.

Colombani would not comment on this except to say he believed Pretoria remained committed to the project, judging by Zuma’s remarks in February and Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Petersson’s remarks two weeks ago.

Zuma said in his State of the Nation speech, “We will procure nuclear energy on a scale at a pace that the country can afford.”

In her budget speech, Joemat-Petersson last month that the Cabinet had decided to allow her department to issue the RFP.

Colombani and Olivier Bard, the South African project director in France’s Eskom-equivalent, electricity parastatal EDF, both said they believed France should be the sole winner of the bid based on the superiority of its bid, technologically and economically.

They stressed the importance of building on the long nuclear relationship France already had with South Africa, having built the country’s only nuclear power plant Koeberg, north of Cape Town, in the late 1970s.

They dismissed recent suggestions from Russian nuclear expert Anton Khlopkov, director of Moscow’s Centre for Energy and Security Studies, that South Africa should split the contract between more than one bidding country. Khlopkov said that China and other countries had successfully done that.

Bard, who also headed the French programme to build two nuclear power plants in China, said China and India could afford to try different nuclear technologies. But neither France nor South Africa could, as this would add enormous costs to the programme.

Colombani suggested that China had borrowed from the various different technologies it had tried, to develop its own nuclear power generator, but that it was largely based on the French model.

Colombani was asked about suggestions in the South African media that South Africa had already chosen Russia’s atomic parastatal Rosatom to build its nuclear fleet, because of Zuma’s good relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I hope the decision will not be made on political grounds,” he said, insisting that if it were made on technical and economic grounds alone, France would win “because our offer will be the best.”

Apart from its technology, France would provide training for about four or five thousand people a year for many years, since the lifespan of a nuclear plant was about 60 years.

This proposal had elicited an “interested response” from the South Africans.

France’s offer would also include a target of localising about 40 to 50% of the nuclear work. Colombani said he and Bard had this week meet Small Business Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu to discuss how to involve local small and medium-size businesses in the nuclear power project. French officials said there were about 200 firms which could potentially benefit.

Colombani said South Africa’s RFP would also include a proposed nuclear research reactor and so France was developing the nuclear research cooperation which was already underway between major South African and French research institutions.

Like all the other expected national bids, France’s proposal for financing the building of the nuclear power plant was based on a mixture of debt and equity, he said.

France was already exploring possible equity partners, both in the private and public sectors, in South Africa and in France.


African News Agency