JOHANNESBURG: South Africa cannot afford large-scale expansion of its nuclear power capacity but would still be open to future deals with Russia, a senior ruling party official said on Thursday, shortly before the arrival of President Vladimir Putin for a summit.
Russian state firm Rosatom was one of the front runners for a project to increase South Africa’s nuclear power-generating capacity championed by former president Jacob Zuma.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has put nuclear expansion on the back burner since taking office in February, saying it is too expensive, and has focused instead on pledges to revive the economy and crack down on corruption.
African National Congress Treasurer General Paul Mashatile, one of the six most powerful members of the ruling party, said Pretoria would not rush into major nuclear investments but that it was still open to deals.
“Once we are clear that this is affordable for us to do, we are open for business including with Russia,” Mashatile said on the sidelines of a three-day BRICS summit due to be attended by the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
“I think the approach we will take is to avoid the Big Bang approach. The initial intervention was that we would do close to 10,000 megawatts… It’s unaffordable,” he said.
Mashatile also said the ANC wanted greater private investment in struggling state-owned power utility Eskom, which swung to a loss for the year to end-March.
Russia wants to turn nuclear energy into a major export industry. It has signed agreements with African countries with no nuclear tradition, including Rwanda and Zambia, and is set to build a large nuclear plant in Egypt.
Rosatom signed a separate agreement with South Africa’s state nuclear firm on Thursday to explore joint production of nuclear medicines and other ways of harnessing nuclear technology, a statement from the two firms showed.
The agreement, which is non-binding and is not related to large-scale power generation, is a further sign that Rosatom is keen to cement its position on the African continent.
The deal will involve the construction of two small reactors and a commercial cyclotron to produce medical isotopes and radiopharmaceuticals at a facility near Pretoria.