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Will Zuma’s allies get their way with nuclear?

President’s final push to secure nuclear power deal won’t be easy.

South Africa’s nuclear build programme seems to be back on the agenda after earlier indications that it was dead. Recent comments by President Jacob Zuma and his new minister of energy David Mahlobo, signal a final push to bag the nuclear deal while Zuma is still in power. In December Zuma’s term as president of the African National Congress will come to an end when the ruling party elects a new leadership. His term as president of the country ends in 2019. The Conversation Africa’s Business and Economy Editor, Sibonelo Radebe, asked Keith Gottschalk to assess the situation.

Is it still possible for the Zuma administration to bag the nuclear energy programme?

The worsening financial plight of the state and its parastatals makes the estimated R1 trillion rand cost of the proposed nuclear build programme increasingly unaffordable. The new finance minister Malusi Gigaba said as much. Slow economic activity is squeezing the tax revenue base while social expenditure demands keep rising. This has caused the deficit indicators to rise a cause for serious concern. Its ludicrous for government to insist on adding the humongous nuclear build programme into such dire state of public finances.

It’s also important to consider that government’s atomic ambitions go far beyond the 9 600 MW of extra nuclear power stations. It also wants to rebuild a uranium enrichment plant that dates back to former apartheid-era President PW Botha in the 1980’s. South Africa gave up its nuclear capability in 1989. It was the only country in Africa that had the ability to make a nuclear bomb.

Zuma’s administration wants to regain some of the lost nuclear capacity. It wants to construct a fuel element fabrication factory. It has talked of a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant. All these also bear steep price tags.

What can stop it?

It’s been reported that Mahlobo, the former state security minister turned energy minister, wants to rush through the new process of guiding the nuclear energy plan into fruition. So it’s not going to be easy to stop it.

But South Africa’s nuclear ambitions face stiff opposition from different directions. These include environmentalist critics of nuclear power generation who use a blend of media, street theatre, objections at public consultation processes, and lawfare to try and stop the government’s ambitions.

The SA Faith Community Environmental Initiative group won an important victory earlier this year when the Cape High Court ruled that the government had not followed due process in its nuclear energy plans, and that they had to be halted. This effectively sent government back to square one.

Opposition parties have also been active, using parliamentary channels. They’re also considering taking the legal route to halt the nuclear juggernaut.

And there is palpable opposition within the ANC itself. A number of ANC branches sent motions critical of the costs of nuclear electricity to the ANC’s National Policy Conference. That conference’s report censored out all these motions.

The administration seems to be pulling out all the stops to bag this programme: What’s at stake?

By now, scandal-weary South Africans will react by saying: follow the money. In December 2016 the government dropped the bombshell that the procurement of its nuclear build programme would be taken away from the department of energy and done instead through Eskom.

The reason became clear when months of media headlines revealed that Eskom’s procurement mechanisms had been infiltrated and subverted by the Gupta family conglomerate to become a corporate feeding trough. With close ties to Zuma the Guptas stand accused of operating an elaborate mission to capture state business with a keen eye on the nuclear energy build programme

Every nuclear build contract, from “consulting” to turbines, would be inflated by one-fifth to build in the kickbacks to the corrupt middlemen tenderpreneurs.

Does South Africa need nuclear energy at this stage?

South Africa does not need nuclear energy at any stage.

About a decade ago, the government argued that South Africa’s economic growth was 5% per year every year, and that the resultant increase in electricity demand necessitated building 9 600 MW of new nuclear power stations. Critics pointed out that these figures were inaccurate.

Economic growth has shrunk significantly since then together with future projections of electricity demand. But the government still insist that the 9 600 MW of nuclear power proposition is backed by economic fundamentals. Clearly, this is a political decision uncoupled from economic realities.

On top of this, the most cost-effective generation of electricity would be a blend of imported hydro, imported gas, solar and wind. But these avenues seems to have been blocked by nefarious agendas.

In 2010, the department of energy proudly announced a 5 000 MW solar park to be built outside Upington. It hosted an international investors’ conference to kickstart progress. Since then, nothing has happened.

In 2014 the department proudly put up on the internet a slide show of how the Zuma and the DRC’s President Kabila had signed a treaty guaranteeing South Africa over 10 000 MW of imported hydropower once the Inga dams were constructed.

By December 2016 the department had effectively airbrushed these out of its presentations. Clearly, political power had been applied to compel the department to drop Eskom’s renewable division, and to suck up to its nuclear division. Which political power this was, became exposed this week when Zuma smeared opponents of his nuclear plans as western puppets.

What are global trends saying about nuclear energy?

The ConversationThe building of new nuclear power stations in developed countries is drastically declining. The UK is alone in signing a contract to build a new one. Nuclear vendors have stepped up their sales campaigns in developing countries to compensate.

Keith Gottschalk, Political Scientist, University of the Western Cape

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

COMMENTS   5

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One wonders if a person such as KG would have the wherewithal to publish something that goes against the prevailing left wing academic dogma that coal and nuclear are bad whereas renewables and gas are good. Normally all such studies start with the premise that renewables can supply an industrial country at low cost and the studies are manipulated to demonstrate that this is in fact the case. Anyone who disagrees is a climate denier (sic), imperialist, fascist who kills puppies. Standard left wing shut-down-the-argument way.

However South Australia (the state) is a good precedent for such folly. Left wing arguments prevailed and the state government went along a path that had led to the most expensive electricity in the entire world (more than Denmark another wind turbine Mecca). To add to this South Australia has the highest unemployment in Australia and lives with an unstable grid that collapses a few times per annum despite importing power from Victoria and NSW.

OK, we get it, you don’t like left-wingers. Now could you detail the specific point or points on which you differ from the writer and produce some motivation which might persuade us to your point of view?

Fair enough comment, Rob. I gave you a thumbs up for the polite discourse.

I suppose it is the disingenuity that gets to me. I am against totalitarian states which would include right wing fascist states, not just left wingers.

The affordability issue is easily countered when power sources are constructed on a commercial basis by the private sector not the ANC fiefdom. If the grid, power generation and power distribution are privatised, the market takes care of the issue. In such a scenario, if renewables are so cheap (and falling) they don’t need subsidies then the problem is solved. If the NPV of a project is positive i.e. wealth is created, there should be no issue with funding.

Comparing 5000MW of “solar park” with 10000MW of imported hydro is disingenuous because the solar park does not produce half the ENERGY that the hydro does- it is more like one tenth or less than a third of what Duvha will produce. There are never any cost comparisons of the marginal cost of Medupi versus solar or wind simply because it will never stack up. The use of power not energy is just another way the left wing lie.

The last paragraph is disingenuous as it is easy to single out developed countries whose agenda has been driven by the loony left. Globally, there are 60 nuclear power stations currently under construction. The “developed world” has gone down the path of South Australia worshipping a deity called Paris. South Africa is not “developed” so why compare it with the “developed countries”?

The opposition to nuclear power in SA is not a single lobby. Some are (rightfully) wary of anything the ANC does owing to corruption. Others have (rightful) concerns about safety i.e. meltdowns. Others have (more irrational) concerns about waste disposal. Others have concerns about the ability of AA/BEEEE operators who would run such a plant. The SA Faith Community Environmental Initiative group is disingenuous. Their beef is with nuclear power not due process. If the lack of due process involved renewables, they would be firmly ensconced in the woodwork whence they crawled.

The comparison with the Apartheid era is odious. Many countries have nuclear enrichment capability yet never had Apartheid.

Nefarious agenda? really? There is no country in the world that has gone the route of utopia with wind turbines and solar panels with a bit of gas on the side there. South Australia tried and failed. Germany burns more coal than ever and imports from France. Why should third world South Africa under a corrupt despotic ANC succeeded?

I would have supported nuclear if it was ot driven by the corrupt ANC and if it was privatised.

Now sincethe agenda comes from Zuma and his fellow corrupt leaders we snould oppose it at all cost. We should no longer support this criminal network.

A blend of renewables/gas/hydro produces cheaper electricity than nuclear. It is also less capital intensive than nuclear.

Renewable are intermittent, which is not the same as unreliable.

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