President Jacob Zuma has authorised the signing of a nuclear agreement with France, the presidency said in a statement yesterday. “President Jacob Zuma has, in terms of section 231 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, granted authority to the Minister of Energy, Ms Tina Joemat-Pettersson, to sign an agreement on cooperation in the development of peaceful uses of nuclear energy, between the government of the Republic of South Africa and the government of the French Republic,” spokesperson Mac Maharaj said. No further details were provided, but it will be further discussed between the energy department and their counterparts in France.
The deal, which the presidency termed an agreement of “strategic partnership and cooperation in the fields of nuclear power and industry”, was signed on already on September 20. The news comes three weeks after South Africa reached a similar deal with Russia as part of the country’s first tentative steps towards building up to 9 600 MW of nuclear power.
On Thursday, the DA said that Joemat-Pettersson must provide details on what authority was acquired in concluding a nuclear agreement with Russia, reported Sapa. “The DA is extremely concerned over reports that [she] signed the latest agreement with Russia in secret and without the involvement of other departmental or diplomatic staff in attendance,” Democratic Alliance MP Lance Greyling said in a statement. Fin24’s sister publication Beeld reported on Wednesday that Joemat-Pettersson was alone when she signed the “mysterious” agreement. The rest of the South African delegation to the annual general meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria, where the agreement was signed, was apparently told to go and wait somewhere else, because the meeting with the Russians was “private”.
The Russian nuclear energy corporation Rosatom originally announced that a transaction to build eight nuclear reactors at a cost of R559bn in South Africa was agreed on in Vienna. The transaction was signed by Joemat-Pettersson on behalf of South Africa and Sergei Kirienko, director general of Rosatom. South Africa has one nuclear power station that provides around 5% of its 42 000 MW of installed generating capacity. Nearly all the rest comes from coal. It has plans to build six new nuclear plants by 2030, providing 9 600 MW of power, although there are concerns that the costs – estimated at between R400bn and R1trn – could be unaffordable.
Opponents of nuclear also argue that it will take too long – a decade or more – to build the power stations, making them irrelevant to solving the immediate electricity supply crunch that Africa’s most advanced economy is facing.