DAVOS: South Africa’s worsening energy crisis will form the centrepiece of President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation address next month, as the government scrambles to respond to unhappiness over power outages and rising electricity prices.
Zuma is likely to announce that the government is pushing ahead with a controversial nuclear energy programme that could cost the country more than R1 trillion. Details would be fleshed out when he spoke to a joint sitting of Parliament early next month, he told Independent Media yesterday.
Zuma was speaking on the sidelines of the annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, where he is leading a delegation of South African ministers, heads of parastatals and businessmen.
He said details of the state’s financial backing for its nuclear power plan would be in Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene’s Budget speech later next month.
“We are going to be articulating where we are. The fact of the matter is that we have signed agreements,” he said, in reference to a series of nuclear co-operation memorandums signed with nuclear powers such as Russia, China and France.
“The finance minister… must be able to say, ‘Here is the money for the programmes the president talked about,’” said Zuma.
Reports last year that South Africa had signed a potential deal that could see Russia’s state-owned nuclear company, Rosatom, build reactors in the country drew criticism.
Detractors argued that the move would put massive financial strain on the country and potentially hike power prices.
The ANC’s lekgotla would put final touches to the plans which would feed into the government lekgotla, Zuma said.
The plans would then filter into his annual parliamentary address. “The State of the Nation address is a function of the lekgotlas,” said Zuma.
Areva, EDF, Toshiba’s Westinghouse Electric, China Guangdong Nuclear Power, Rosatom and Korea Electric Power have expressed interest in building South Africa’s new nuclear plants. Zuma confirmed that the government was also considering offers from Japan and South Korea.
Critics often warn about Russia’s track record on safety at its nuclear plants. However, a senior lecturer at the school of mechanical and nuclear engineering at North West University, Dawid Serfontein, said Russia was at the forefront of nuclear technology and had promised to lend South Africa money to fund the programme.
Earthlife Africa project coordinator Christian Taylor said the cost of nuclear electricity would be too expensive and would result in debt.
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