More calls for nuclear deal transparency

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Energy minister David Mahlobo.
Energy minister David Mahlobo.

With indications emerging that new energy minister David Mahlobo is looking to fast-track SA's nuclear build programme, civil organisation Right2Know (R2K) is demanding government be transparent on the economic feasibility of different energy-generation technologies.

The organisation has submitted two requests for information around SA's energy resources and the nuclear deal. The requests have been sent to government under the Promotion of Access to Information Act.

The advocacy group has filed access to information requests to the Government Technical Advisory Centre (GTAC) for findings of research done into Russian nuclear vendor company, Rosatom, and the economic feasibility of different energy-generation technologies.

This week, new minister of energy, David Mahlobo, speaking at a briefing with the Portfolio Committee on Energy in Parliament, announced an Energy Indaba to take place in December.

Public participation

R2K says after the Western Cape High Court ordered the nuclear deal procurement process back to the drawing board in March this year, to ensure it incorporates public participation, it is essential that meaningful participation and informed discussion is at the heart of the energy dialogue.

"We will not stand for token processes that do not consult and include ordinary South Africans," says R2K.

It notes the minister has not provided the public with key information needed for full and effective public participation to occur.

The minister has not answered key questions around the cost, feasibility and timeframe of nuclear energy projects, and has given no new information on the agreement with Rosatom, R2K says.

R2K has submitted a request for all findings and reports stemming from research into the economic feasibility of different energy-generation technologies to the GTAC.

This research is cited on the GTAC Web site, which states the research has until now had a specific focus on renewable energies, including solar, hydro, shale gas and imported gas, and also looks at nuclear energy.

"We demand that all of the research and reports on economic feasibility be released to the public," says R2K.

According to the GTAC Web site, "this includes understanding unit costs from each technology type for producing electricity, the likely impact on the consumer tariff, requirements for government support, suitability to private financing and ownership, major risks, probability of cost overruns, country readiness and other related characteristics that are important to take into account when making investment choices".

"We cannot allow secret deals to be made with big companies that are not in the interest of a cost-effective energy solution that will provide jobs in SA. It is essential all information on Rosatom and on the relationship between Rosatom and the South African government is transparent and included in consultation processes," R2K says.

GTAC will now have 30 days to respond to the request.

What R2K needs to know

Below are the questions raised by R2K about the nuclear build programme:

o Why nuclear energy when SA has readily available and cheaper renewable energy options?

o Can SA afford R1 trillion for nuclear when there is such a need for further investment in basic social and economic needs and services?

o Why is government so intent on buying nuclear energy when most countries are opting for renewable energy?

o Who stands to benefit from the nuclear deal?

o Why has government been so secretive about the nuclear procurement process: what is it hiding?

Mahlobo's appointment in October was widely seen by critics as president Jacob Zuma's attempt to push through the R1 trillion nuclear deal. Mahlobo is said to be a long-time ally of Zuma.

Court action

The minister has on several occasions spoken highly about nuclear energy, with City Press reporting on Sunday that Mahlobo was pushing for the finalisation of the integrated energy resource plan four months ahead of schedule, so that he could forge ahead with his plans for nuclear.

However, Loyiso Tyabashe, acting general manager of Eskom's nuclear new build programme, said in an affidavit the state utility has in no way violated the court's judgement and would not proceed with the procurement of nuclear unless it is lawfully designated.

Meanwhile, civil groups Earthlife Africa and the Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute will ask for an urgent interdict to stop any plans for issuing a request for proposals or a request for information for the procurement of nuclear energy until legal requirements from an earlier court ruling are met.

The civil society organisations say the court action is necessary in the wake of impressions created by government that it's looking to speed up the acquisition of its nuclear energy capacity.

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