Rigging the nuclear outcome?

15th December 2017 By: Saliem Fakir

At the time of writing, it appeared nuclear would be ramped through before the African National Congress’s elective conference, which was due to start on December 16.
New Energy Minister David Mahlobo says we need nuclear. There have been a lot of claims about nuclear’s job creation and industrialisation potential, and that nuclear energy will be cheap. None of these statements reflects the truth or reality.
The latest figure being bandied about is that nuclear will cost about 35c/kW. If there was anything to make you laugh, then it would be the claim that, in 2017, the cost of electricity would be this low. The last time some former – short-lived – Energy Ministers bandied about prices, we were told that electricity from nuclear would cost about 70c/kW.
The fact is that nobody really knows what the cost would be, and all we can do is to take a view based on experience elsewhere – none of the nuclear projects that have been built of late have come cheap. I am referring to Hinkley Point C, in the UK, and Olkiluoto, in Finland, both of which have experienced major cost overruns and construction delays.
The lesson to be drawn from this is that you go the nuclear route if you have absolutely no other option. We do not need nuclear for now and we can depend on cheaper renewables and even imported gas, given how gas prices, similar to liquefied natural gas prices, have declined.
The fact that some mysterious country is going to vendor-finance the nuclear deal so that we only pay for each kilowatt generated makes it all look like a sweet deal – a sort of freebie. But no deal is a freebie, and a large-scale project like a nuclear power station not only puts at risk the country’s fiscus but also places our political sovereignty into the hands of a foreign power. Egypt is having to make a similar decision – whether to commit to a Faustian bargain with Russia or not.
The lesson from Egypt is not so much the unaffordability of the programme but that Egypt will be tying its sovereignty to the hip of Russian geopolitical consolidation in the Middle East.
Our fiscus is already imperilled, given the huge Budget deficit and the fact that government has to find an extra R50-billion, as tax revenues have not matched expectations.
Making matters worse is the fact that dark clouds hover over the limping and beaten body of Eskom, given the numerous corruption scandals involving the State-owned utility that have surfaced in the media in recent times.
Government needs a clean book – it has to deal with the unresolved Public Protector’s report on State capture and the fact that we have a credit rating downgrade. In this context, the whole push for a nuclear deal becomes highly suspicion, especially as we do not have much money in the kitty and there is not any need for more energy.
The loose talk of foreign conspiracies as far as the nuclear deal is concerned only applies if it excludes Russia from the equation. President Jacob Zuma’s broadside against the West is contradicted by his Finance Minister going cup-in-hand to the World Bank to ask if they would be willing to fund South Africa’s nuclear programme. You guessed it – a Western development bank.
A long time ago, the World Bank took a policy decision not to fund any new coal or nuclear projects.
There have been consistent attempts to push the nuclear deal, and it seems that a secret deal has already been signed. We all think that the deal is with Russia.
If there is any wrongdoing, it is happening now, not tomorrow.
The capacity for misinformation has currency for a while but after that people do not believe things anymore as too many lies have been told before. But the nuclear deal will be pushed because Moscow ordered it. The ‘science’ will be aligned with the politics. The public consultation will be a farce.
Expect the expected in the next revelation of the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP). It will be rigged in favour of nuclear.
Foreign experts have been flown in by the industry lobby – from Australia or elsewhere to punt nuclear. The baseload brigade will be trying to preach sense to us – the irrational lot.
The imported lobbyists not knowing any better about the intrigues of State capture will be playing a helping hand not in regime change but regime capture. It will take a while for their innocence to be destroyed once their eyes are opened to what is going on.
The pursuit of nuclear is a cynical exercise. Everybody is aware of what the game is and who gets what. This has nothing to do with the West not wanting Africans to have nuclear; we already have peaceful uses of nuclear, if you consider South Africa’s flourishing isotope industry.
It has nothing to do with the poor, as electricity is already unaffordable and, given Eskom’s yearly applications for double-digit tariff hikes and its recurrent recourse to the Regulatory Clearing Account, this is all about large capital projects giving a helping hand to a few.
The only way in which the nuclear programme will be pushed is to defy logic and for the National Treasury to be brought to its knees as both officials and the Minister of Finance begin to lose power over the Budget process, as can be seen with the resignation of Michael Sachs over the way in which the issue of free university education is being handled.
May the cosmos save South Africa.