In a media briefing on Wednesday this week in Pretoria, officials from the Department of Energy (DoE) stated that while a procurement process had not yet started, the procurement of 9 600MW of nuclear power would take place.

The briefing was aimed at dispelling concerns that South Africa had already signed a nuclear procurement deal for eight VVER nuclear reactors from Rosatom. The DoE explained that the agreement which had been signed in Vienna on 22 September formed part of preparations for a procurement process that was yet to be launched.

Acting DoE director-general Dr Wolsey Barnard also indicated at the briefing that similar intergovernmental agreements would be signed with other nuclear-vendor countries in the coming months, noting that an agreement with France should be concluded in October. It had already concluded an agreement with South Korea in 2013.

Besides Russia, France and South Korea, it was expected that South Africa would seek to conclude agreements with China, Japan and the USA during the preparatory phase. The content of the contentious agreement with the Russian Federation and Rosatom would, however, not be released until it had been endorsed by Cabinet for consideration by Parliament.

Barnard indicated that the document contained proprietary information that had been shared “in confidence” and it would not be prudent to provide details before agreements had been signed with other countries.

The deputy director-general for nuclear energy in the DoE, Zizamele Mbambo, said the tender for nuclear power could be a closed tender or a government-to-government agreement.

Mbambo said a decision not to procure, or to procure a lesser amount, was not an option on the table. ‘Government will take a decision in the national interest. So, yes there will be a procurement process and once that has been approved that information will be communicated.’

He also emphasised that nuclear procurement was not the same as any other type of procurement, and that international experience showed countries made decisions based on national interest. In South Africa’s case, the national interest was to be energy self-sufficient and to develop the entire nuclear value chain from the mining of uranium to enrichment, to the disposal of waste. He added that the localisation requirements would allow South Africa to promote industrialisation and create employment opportunities.

The Department of Energy also cast some light on the prospective role of Eskom. While the nuclear policy of 2008 said Eskom would be "owner and operator" of the nuclear fleet, Barnard said South Africa "might need to go a different route" and the final model chosen "would clarify the role of Eskom".

Civil society organisations and political parties have already voiced their objections about the nuclear procurement process. The selection of a power-generation technology without certainty on future demand or established facts on cost implications was bound to spark opposition.

Lawson Naidoo, executive director of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution, said that without transparency it would be impossible to assess whether the tendering process was fair. "A key issue is the order in which things are done," he said. "If government starts by saying there will be a procurement, it undermines all the other processes that need to take place." Without seeing the full bilateral agreements with vendor countries, it would be impossible to be sure that the procurement process was not being tailored to suit a particular bidder."

The Energy Security Sub-Committee, which is chaired by President Jacob Zuma, was placing much emphasis on energy security, self-sufficiency, localisation, job creation, skills development and technology transfer. Through the intergovernmental agreements, South Africa would gauge the vendor countries’ preparedness in delivering on these components.