Eskom’s chief nuclear officer David Nicholls is still firmly committed to the principle that nuclear is the way to go for a sustainable energy future and says he knows of no corruption in negotiations on a deal to procure new nuclear energy capacity.
“I’ve been in the middle of this deal for years. People are talking about secret Russian deals. Show me the secret plan signed with the Russians. I have no knowledge of a secret plan,” he told delegates attending a special session on nuclear at the African Utility Week, in Cape Town, on Thursday.
Nicholls said there was a presumption that there was corruption because so much money was involved in a nuclear deal. But he said corruption was unlikely in such a large deal.
“It would be a State to State deal, with no middlemen involved. The classical deal would be Eskom contracting with an overseas State organisation, with a government to government loan guarantee system,” he told journalists after the formal session.
He said the likelihood of corruption was much higher if you had a series of multiple deals, stating that a single big deal was much easier to control.
“If you have multiple deals and small contracts, you are open to corruption. I’d argue that the more small deals you have, the more you compartmentalise your procurement and the more you end up with concern over corruption.”
He also dismissed claims that the uranium market would be an ideal place for corruption in the nuclear deal, adding that coal contracts in comparison would be more open to corruption.
“You could argue the cost of coal is the big money driver in Eskom coal-fired power stations. But uranium is not the big money spinner in a nuclear deal,” he said, noting that it formed a miniscule part of the cost.
The nuclear session was attended by both sides of the nuclear debate and follows soon after a High Court ruling against plans to issue a contract for the construction of a fleet of nuclear power plants in South Africa without proper public consultation with stakeholders.
Nicholls said the court case “had not made a comment on the goodness or badness [of nuclear energy]. It has made a comment on the process that was followed.”
He added that the nuclear issue had become “emotional”, given that so much money was involved.
But he said the spending on nuclear – R1-trillion over 20 years – was at the same rate that was being spent on the Kusile and Medupi coal-fired power stations.
“It’s about the same rate as we have been committing to renewables over the past few years. It’s the same magnitude as coal and renewables.”
Other panelists during the session on South Africa’s nuclear power generation status, also presented their views on the road ahead for nuclear.
“The deal should not have been rubber-stamped because of the magnitude of the enterprise. The implication for the nuclear industry is that you have to go back to square one to start the nuclear procurement process. Only with a public consultation process in order, can you go forward,” said University of Cape Town professor in Public Law Jan Glazewski.
Nicholls reiterated that nuclear was the sustainable solution for South Africa’s energy future.
“We are constrained with environmental concerns, as well as Eskom coal-fired plants which are running out of life. This leaves us with a requirement to replace our current despatchable baseload plant, which is coming to the end of its technical life, from 2025 onwards.”
He said renewable energy was not reliable enough.
“We cannot take the risk of gambling on something that has not worked in a country such as Germany, which has relied on gas and wind. If the Germans can’t hack it, I don’t know how we will.”