South Africa’s energy department said on Wednesday the process to procure six new nuclear power plants to help overcome chronic electricity shortages had been delayed for more consultations but had not stalled.
Africa’s most industrialised economy was expected to finalise some requirements for its nuclear expansion by April, with Russia and China the front-runners to build the new power stations, Reuters reported in February.
“There is a consultation process with key stakeholders that the department of energy has undertaken before issuing the request for proposals (RFP),” the department said.
“This consultation process has not yet been concluded and the RFP will be issued as soon as this process is concluded. The process is continuing and should not be rushed,” it said in a statement.
Pretoria has earmarked billions of rand for increases in power generation but the price tag of up to R1 trillion ($66 billion) for 9.6 gigawatts of nuclear power by 2030 has raised concerns over whether the plan is affordable.
The opposition Democratic Alliance said earlier that Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson informed a parliamentary committee that an April 1 deadline in the procurement process had not been met, and that no new date had been set.
The Democratic Alliance said that meant “the procurement process is now in limbo”.
The energy ministry rejected the opposition party claim.
“The status quo remains. South Africa still has a nuclear procurement process,” energy ministry spokesman Thabo Mothibi told Reuters, adding that the process would be subject to the “strictest scrutiny possible”.
Fears the nuclear project could be the most expensive procurement in South Africa’s history, and that decisions could be made behind closed doors without the necessary public scrutiny, have been raised by the opposition.
The government has said the procurement process would be conducted in a transparent manner.
South Africa’s cash-strapped power utility Eskom, which relies heavily on coal for electricity generation, is scrambling to keep the lights on and raise the capital needed to build new coal-fired units and maintain its existing fleet of plants.