Zuma and his cronies last gasp nuclear madness continues – against all odds

CAPE TOWN — The economic wrecking ball that is Jacob Zuma and his captured cronies continue to swing, regardless of the Constitution, the law and massive public antipathy. Am I talking about the State Capture enquiry, the fraud charges, the selling off of oil reserves, the cabinet shuffle insanity, or the roaring up every legal avenue to stave off culpability for most of the above? No. I’m talking about the lunacy of Zuma’s cabal doggedly pursuing a nuclear power deal in the face of every Constitutional, civil, legal and existing court ruling, not to mention universal expert opinion on the valence of renewable energy versus the national economic suicide that an incipient Russian nuclear build deal represents. If ever there was a rational argument for some nefarious agenda driving the Zuptoids in shaping South Africa’s energy future, the two articles below point to it. What other possible motivation can explain the ruling cabal’s behaviour? Throw in 18 months, (hopefully shorter if we can work a Zimswap deal), left for Zuma as President and the mad push for nuclear eloquently suggests the Zuptoids having to deliver for something they’ve benefitted from or were promised. It’s the antithesis of public service. Yet they continue – against all odds. – Chris Bateman

By David Fig*

South African President Jacob Zuma, has a maximum of 18 months left as head of state. This time he hopes to rescue a nuclear power deal involving a proposed contract to build between six and eight new nuclear reactors in South Africa.

In an attempt to push through the deal, Zuma has appointed his former minister of state security, David Mahlobo as energy minister. The president trusts that Mahlobo, a close ally for over ten years, will act decisively to implement the deal. He appears to be under orders to get a deal with Russia done and dusted.

The nuclear deal contract is for nuclear reactors to produce 9600 megawatts of power. This would be five times the amount of energy generated from Koeberg, South Africa’s only nuclear power plant which generates a maximum of 1844 megawatts.

President Jacob Zuma accompanied by David Mahlobo during a visit in KwaZulu-Natal. (Source: GCIS)
President Jacob Zuma accompanied by David Mahlobo during a visit in KwaZulu-Natal. (Source: GCIS)

But the facts show that the country does not need this extra power. Demand for electricity has come down every year since 2011. And the National Treasury argues that the costs, in the range of at least R1-1,8 trillion, will be prohibitive.

Nuclear energy will also be the most costly electricity source, according to work done by energy experts. In a climate where the state utility Eskom is deeply in debt and is therefore trying to raise the price of electricity by 19.9% for the next few years, investment for nuclear will force up the cost to consumers, and meeting the borrowing requirements will put unnecessary pressure on an already stressed economy.

Zuma’s push for nuclear continues to emphasise how isolated he really is. The anti-nuclear lobby is no longer confined to environmentalists. Large sections of civil society, business, academia and even sections of government have come out against it. My hunch is that democracy will win, and the people will triumph over a tainted and over-extended kleptocrat.

Massaging the energy strategy

Zuma’s efforts to get the deal underway have been stopped in their tracks following a court ruling that declared previous attempts to privilege Russian interests as illegal. The court ruled that before the deal can be reinstated, it has to go through a public participation process and parliament has to approve it. The court also ruled that state efforts to put Eskom in charge of procurement were illegal, as the proper procedures weren’t followed.

It is unlikely that even Mahlobo can meet these legal requirements in the time that his boss has left in office.

Mahlobo’s first step has been to try to speed up the state’s energy strategy – which was supposed to be updated in April 2018. Although the plan is supposed to be updated every two years the 2010 version – which called for more nuclear procurement – is officially still on the table. A subsequent revision in 2013 questioned the need for nuclear. But this plan was never tabled in parliament by the Department of Energy.

The 2018 plan being promised by Mahlobo is expected to re-emphasise the commitment to nuclear. Zuma wants the plan fast tracked. But by speeding it up, the government has indicated to parliament that it will be excluding a public participation process.

This is likely to be challenged given that the plan is the closest thing South Africa has to a national discussion on its energy future.

But even if the plan can be massaged in Zuma’s interests, it won’t be enough to ensure the deal goes through. It will be challenged by political parties and NGOs who are prepared to litigate to challenge a rigged plan if necessary.

Additional hurdles

The public participation process that the national electricity regulator must manage – as prescribed by the April 2017 court judgement – is far from being established. The regulator was berated by the court for not doing this. It has to happen before procurement takes place. The process will provide the perfect opportunity for organisations to make the case that the scientific, environmental and economic arguments against new nuclear are backed by solid evidence.

More of Zapiro’s magic available at www.zapiro.com

Even if this process approved the orders of new reactors, there are other hurdles to be cleared. Before the competitive procurement process can be initiated, South Africa would need to renew a series of legal memoranda of understanding with vendor countries. These include France, Russia, China, South Korea and the US. This would ensure that these are free of contractual content, and then sanctioned by parliament. Only then can the procurement proceed legally. And government would have to ensure that the process abides by the Constitutional requirements of “fairness, equity, transparency, competitiveness and cost-effectiveness.”

This means that it will be illegal and unconstitutional to offer Russia preferential treatment in guaranteeing that it secures the deal.

Any transgression of the law or the Constitution will be met by litigation from the environmental lobby. It will be strengthened by an array of other actors, ranging from tax and anti-corruption to human rights activists.

The ConversationZuma can of course flout the rule of law, but would he want to jeopardise what is left of an already problematic legacy over this more or less unwinnable issue?

Eskom’s latest work on the IRP for the DoE rejects nuclear

By Chris Yelland*

The findings of the latest work on the draft Integrated Resource Plan for Electricity, IRP 2017, by Eskom for the South African Department of Energy (DoE) are proving to be somewhat problematic for Energy Minister David Mahlobo.

As a result, this latest work by Eskom, and all further work on IRP 2017, has now been taken out of the hands of both Eskom and the DoE planning technocrats by Minister Mahlobo and his nuclear team so they can “massage” it further with “policy adjustment”.

The Eskom work confirms studies by other respected research bodies in South Africa and abroad, as well as the statements by Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba at the recent World Bank and International Monetary Fund summit in New York, and in his medium-term budget policy statement, that the new-nuclear option for South Africa is both unnecessary and costly.

After modelling numerous scenarios in the latest work by Eskom, the study focusses on five broad scenario options, referred to by Eskom as: the Reference Case; the Optimum Plan; the Low Growth Scenario; the Carbon Budget Plan; and the Forced Nuclear scenario.

In the Forced Nuclear scenario, some 9,6 GW of new-nuclear power is “hardwired” (or forced) into the IRP model in the years to 2050, because none of the other scenarios modelled come up with this particular outcome, which appears to be preferred by the DoE nuclear team and the Zuma administration.

For the first time, this latest work by Eskom incorporates the cost of transmission infrastructure, by including these costs for all the generation technologies and scenarios modelled. Eskom concludes that contrary to what is often heard, the total cost of grid integration of renewable energy, coal, gas or nuclear is actually minimal in comparison to the cost of the generation component.

nuclear energy

Based on local and international studies, and real-world experience, and again contrary to what is often heard from nuclear evangelists (including those within Eskom itself), the latest Eskom study shows that the overnight capital cost of new nuclear in SA is the highest by far of all the generation technologies, significantly higher even than that of concentrating solar power (CSP) with nine hours of energy storage.

Specifically, the study finds that the overnight capital cost of new nuclear power in South Africa comes in at US $5141 per kW installed. This is compared to $680 per kW for OCGT, $747 for CCGT, $1390 per kW for wind, $1220 per kW for fixed-tilt solar PV, $4336 per kW for CSP with nine hours of energy storage, and from $2950 to $3560 per kW for new coal.

The Forced Nuclear scenario, in which 9,6 GW of nuclear new-build is “hardwired” into the IRP model, would increase the electricity price trajectory in South Africa significantly more than that for any of the other viable scenarios modelled, with prices approximately R0,15 per kWh higher than that of the Optimum Case.

The Eskom study goes further to show that from 2030 to 2050 the cumulative electricity cost to customers resulting from the R0,15 per kWh higher electricity price of the Forced Nuclear scenario is some R800-billion higher than that of the Optimum Plan scenario, and R500-billion higher than that of the Reference (Base) Case scenario.

In the Carbon Budget scenario modelled by Eskom, a median demand growth is assumed, and a more demanding approach to CO2 emission reduction is taken. In addition, solar PV and wind capacity is artificially (i.e. politically) constrained at 1 GW and 1,8 GW per annum respectively. This forces 5,6 GW of new nuclear power into the IRP (made up of  4 x 1,4 GW reactors), but these are only required in 2039, 2040, 2045 and 2046 respectively.

In the Optimum Plan scenario modelled by Eskom, where a median demand growth is assumed, together with the more moderate “peak-plateau-decline” approach to CO2 emission reduction, and with no annual caps on wind and solar PV, the study shows that no new nuclear power is required at all in the years to 2050.

In fact, even in the base case Reference Plan scenario, where the artificial annual constraints of 1 GW and 1,8 GW per annum are imposed for wind and solar PV, together with a median demand growth forecast and the “peak-plateau-decline” approach to CO2 emission reduction, no new nuclear is required by 2050 at all.


In response to this article, Eskom has indicated that it unable to comment as is not aware of the contents of the IRP. “The Eskom team is only involved in terms of providing the modelling work, with the approach and inputs given by the Department of Energy”, said Eskom spokesman Khulu Phasiwe. The DoE did not respond when given the opportunity for right-of-reply.

In summary, the Eskom modelling work makes it clear that the unconstrained least-cost scenario of the Optimum Plan does not include any new nuclear power, regardless of demand projections and CO2 limits. Furthermore, the modelling shows that the only way to getting new nuclear into the IRP is by artificially constraining renewable energy, or by taking a hardwired “Forced Nuclear” approach.

Perhaps it is these realities highlighted in the latest modelling work and findings by Eskom that are giving the DoE planners and nuclear team some headaches, leading to the delay in the release of IRP 2017 from the mid-November date indicated only a few weeks ago by the energy minister.

The unfolding events around the Energy Indaba mooted by the DoE for early December 2017, and the pending release of IRP 2017 following “policy adjustment” input by the cabinet, with the possibility of “Forced Nuclear”, could be dramatic. Watch this space!

  • Chris Yelland, investigative editor, EE Publishers
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