Minister Joemat-Pettersson clams up on nuclear

Nuclear deals cannot be transparent

(published to clients 25 Sept)

In a meeting to explain intergovernmental agreements so far made by South Africa on the nuclear New tina-joemattBuild programme, Department of Energy DOE and DDG of Nuclear, Zizamele Mbambo, was completely overshadowed by the requests by Minister of Energy, Tina Joemat-Pettersson, to preface the entire presentation with her own comments. She also was to speak first in answer to the many direct and pertinent questions from Opposition MPs directed at DOE.

In both cases it became less and less clear how much the nuclear programme was going to cost the country.  Also it became unclear what stage the Cabinet had reached as far as decision making was concerned, causing the chairperson of the committee, Fikile Majola (ANC), to remind the Minister that Parliament was supposed to provide oversight on financial commitments to other countries and certainly must be consulted before any such agreements were signed.

Russia dominating events

p van dalenIn an acrimonious exchange between P Van Dalen (DA) in summarising the areas of co-operation between South Africa and the Russian Federation, France, China, South Korea and the USA, Van Dalen remarked to the Minister that the whole picture looked like “Russia versus the Rest”. He wanted to know why the Russian co-operation areas were more informed and more extensive. He gave the example of the Russian agreement offered naming the actual location sites in South Africa for three possible structures.

Minister Joemat-Pettersson responded that the “areas of co-operation still had to be finalised” with Japan, to which country she had yet to visit, and Canada. The Russian Federation had done a particularly good job, she noted. Little information was given for Chinese involvement, it being assumed that President Jacob Zuma’s visit to that country would result in an update. Media reports state that Japan is teaming with Westinghouse.

 Just to keep some happy

 The Minister complained that Opposition members were making the Ministry’s life untenable by constantly demanding information on the extent, the cost and the timing of the New Build nuclear programme when too much information given out would compromise the bidding process. She denied there was any preferred bidder in the process.

She said DOE was supplying information to the meeting, “going as far as they could without compromising the whole exercise” because the Opposition parties had been very demanding. But it was still too early to make all documents available.

No sense

Gordon McKay demanded to know how it was then that Minister of Finance Nene had, in a mediagordon mackay DA briefing recently, stated that the “country could not afford a nuclear build programme” and how it was to be paid for?      If nobody knew the cost, what was Minister Nene talking about, he asked.   He said that Parliament was having “to rely on second hand information from the media” and this was wrong because it represented non-disclosure.

He also wanted to know who it was in South Africa that was “qualified enough to make a judgment call on both selection of the of the winning bidder and also be satisfied on the cost to the taxpayer.”

It was at this point that a surprising fact emerged.     Despite the Minister’s stated inability to answer on total project costs, it was admitted by her that an “independent consultant” had not only completed and supplied a project modelling report but a financial model as well.

All will be revealed

koebergNo further information could be supplied, the Minister said, either on who this was and estimated costs but she promised that the Committee would be briefed once the vendor bidding process was complete. A date at the end of 2015 was promised for further information to be supplied to Parliament on costs, plus the independent modelling reports “in due course”.

The Minister stated that again and again that “transparency was her target as far as Parliament was concerned” but said that she was constrained by the nature of the bidding at this stage. She however confirmed that a nuclear contribution “probably greater than originally expected” had to be part of the energy mix if South Africa was to meet its COP 15 environmental targets agreed to internationally.

DOE has a schedule

Z MbamboDDG of DOE, Nuclear, Zizamele Mbambo in his presentation, confirmed to Parliamentarians that the department was at the stage of the completion of pre-procurement processes and that commencement of procurement would start in the second quarter of 2016, with finalisation of partners by the end of the calendar year.

The intergovernmental agreements at present being concluded were displayed and covered the technology to be selected and construction: research reactor technology and construction; financing and commercial matters; manufacturing, industrialisation and localisation; human resources and skills development; public awareness programmes; safety liability and licensing; nuclear siting and permitting; the nature of both front and back ends of the fuel cycle itself and non-proliferation matters.

 Waste disposal issues

Opposition members wanted to know why waste disposal was not raised as a requirement and DDG Mbambo explained that South Africa had already enacted legislation to adequately cater for this issue and was deeply involved in waste disposal, quoting the Koeberg model.
However, it was notable that France and the USA contained “waste management areas of co-operation” in this regard, whereas the Russian contribution referred to enhancing support for the current legislative and regulatory environment, once again indicating a clearer knowledge of local conditions.

The DOE presentation went no further than just enumerating on a comparative basis each bidder’sbrics partners technological and commercial contributions in broad terms. However, it was notable that the Russian proposals went further than others on the degrees of localisation in the form of manufacture of components and skills training. It also included the “joint marketing and promotion of produced products to third country markets.” A considerable number of South Africans were already in Russian training exercises as they were in China.

Uranium in Karoo

The South Korean proposals were noticeably different in the area of contributing towards desalination of salt water projects and support in various aspects of nuclear research and the exploration and mining of uranium. At this stage the Chines contributions were limited for reasons stated but, again, noticeable in China’s paper was the expression “the development of new technology for civil nuclear energy for the (SA new) build programme and Republic of China and other third world countries.”
Other articles in this category or as background
Nuclear partner details awaited – ParlyReportSA
Nuclear and gas workshop meeting – ParlyReportSA
Nuclear goes ahead: maybe “strategic partner” – ParlyReportSA
National nuclear control centre now in place – ParlyReportSA

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