JOHANNESBURG – Government plans to sign new, more transparent nuclear power agreements with five foreign countries after a high court blocked a deal with Russia due to a lack of oversight, the energy ministry said on Saturday.
Government signed intergovernmental agreements with Russia, France, China, South Korea and the United States in 2014 as part of plans to build a fleet of nuclear power plants at a cost of between $30 billion and $70 billion.
Many investors view the scale of the nuclear plan as unaffordable and a major risk to the country’s financial stability, while opponents of President Jacob Zuma say the deal will be used as a conduit for corruption. Zuma denies allegations of wrongdoing.
State energy firm Eskom says nuclear power should play a role in country’s energy mix and will help reduce reliance on coal.
The Western Cape High Court found last month that the agreement with Russia lacked transparency and offered Moscow favourable tax rules while placing heavy financial obligations on the country.
The energy ministry said it had “major concerns” about the court judgement but would not appeal the ruling. It will continue with nuclear energy plans adhering to stricter procedural guidelines, including consulting parliament.
“There is no intention to table the current agreements but (we) will embark to sign new agreements with all five countries and table them within reasonable time to parliament,” the ministry said in a statement.
Eskom on Friday reinstated its former chief executive Brian Molefe, a Zuma ally who has supported the nuclear power plan.
Molefe stepped down five months ago after being implicated in a report by the country’s anti-graft watchdog into alleged influence-peddling. He denied any wrongdoing.
Some analysts say former finance minister Pravin Gordhan was fired partly because he resisted pressures from a political faction allied to Zuma to back nuclear expansion.
New Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba has said nuclear expansion will only be pursued if it is affordable.