LONDON, Sept 15 (Reuters) - South Africa could restart a procurement process for its nuclear expansion project as soon as next month but the government still has to determine the exact timing, the chairman of South Africa’s state nuclear agency Necsa said on Friday.
South Africa is planning to build several new nuclear reactors with a combined capacity of 9,600 megawatts, which could be one of the world’s biggest nuclear deals in decades.
The plans aim to help resolve the country’s chronic power shortages.
The plans were disrupted this year when South Africa’s High Court ruled that a nuclear cooperation pact with Russia was unlawful, after which the government started to draw up new pacts with countries with nuclear expertise.
South African officials have made progress on the nuclear project since the court ruling, selecting potential sites for the new power stations, South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) Chairman Kelvin Kemm told Reuters.
“The procurement process could restart as soon as next month,” Kemm said on the sidelines of the World Nuclear Association conference in London.
He said South Africa’s state utility Eskom and Necsa were ready to proceed. “All that needs to happen is for the politicians to press the restart button,” he said.
Kemm said officials had sought environment ministry approval for one of the sites, at Thyspunt in the Eastern Cape, and approval could be granted in the next couple of months.
The next step would probably be for South Africa to issue a Request-for-Proposal (RFP) to the world’s top nuclear reactor firms, all of which had responded to the government’s previous Request-for-Information (RFI), he said.
He said he did not see the need for a new RFI after the ruling.
Nuclear reactor makers including Russia’s Rosatom, South Korea’s Kepco, France’s EDF and Areva, Toshiba-owned Westinghouse and China’s CGN are eyeing the South African project, which could be worth tens of billions of dollars.
A senior executive from Russian state firm Rosatom told Reuters on Thursday his firm was keen to win the contract and was ready to use a business model suitable to South Africa.
South African officials say the nuclear project, which is backed by President Jacob Zuma, is needed to help ensure stable power supplies and diversify the country’s energy mix.
Zuma’s opponents have said the project could be used as a conduit for corruption, a charge the president and officials deny. Some investors say the project is too big and expensive for a developing economy, such as South Africa.
Kemm said all top nuclear reactor makers were still in the running for the project and that he hoped a firm contract with a foreign partner would be signed next year.
South Africa aimed to achieve 50 percent local input to the project to lift the economy, he said, adding that ordering several plants at once should help bring down costs.
Reporting by Alexander Winning; Editing by Geert De Clercq