I don’t know of a secret plan: Eskom nuclear chief

Eskom’s chief nuclear officer said on Thursday that there are no secrets and corruption in the nuclear deal is unlikely.

David Nicholls told delegates at the Nuclear Power Africa conference that nuclear is not only the most viable option on the table for South Africa’s future energy needs, but it is also affordable.

Nicholls participated in a panel discussion on the country’s nuclear positioning where he said there has been no procurement process on nuclear.

“We are asked show us the nuclear plans you’ve signed with the Russians and I say I can’t do that. I don’t have one. I don’t know of a secret plan,” he said.

He insisted the process has been transparent yet “there is this presumption that behind this there is something else”.

In 2014 South Africa signed intergovernmental agreements with among others Russia and China as part of the multi billion rand nuclear built plans. However, the Western Cape High Court recently found these agreements lacked transparency, prompting the government to go back to the drawing board for a new and more transparent process.

The government’s nuclear plans have also hit hurdles due to costs and corruption claims.

Responding to questions on corruption claims with the nuclear deal, he said corruption on the nuclear deal “could be quite challenging in the sense that it is a state to state deal”.

“Now if you have multiple deals with small little contracts you tend to get lots of opportunities for corruption.”  Nicholls said that concerns over corruption arise with lots of small deals and when procurement is compartmentalised.

He said that Eskom would likely be contracting with overseas state organisations with a government to government loan system – something that would minimise opportunities for corruption.

Nicholls argued against claims that the uranium market is the ideal place for corruption in the nuclear deal.

“Uranium is traded like oil and the price is pretty much an international standard number. So if you ask me about that I would not go for uranium to claim corruption in the nuclear deal,” he said.

“My advice to the industry is that if you believe corruption will come into the nuclear deal it will not be based on the uranium supply, it would be based on something else. But it is easier to control as a single big deal than in multiple small deals.”


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