Ignore ‘politics’, says Russian company that wants to build nuclear in South Africa about Ukraine

News analysis

A mushroom cloud after a French atomic bomb test in the Pacific in 1971. (Photo by Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images)

  • Russian nuclear company Rosatom doesn’t think “politics” – around things like invading Ukraine – should influence nuclear relations.
  • Rosatom still hopes to build nuclear reactors in South Africa, having been promised contracts eight years ago.
  • Its previous plans included transporting enriched materials to plants it would operate in South Africa and returning spent fuel to Russia.
  • This could now be inconvenient, as would the use of US and EU money to connect Rosatom reactors to the South African grid.
  • For more stories, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

In 2014, South Africa agreed that Russian state-owned Rosatom would build up to eight nuclear reactors in South Africa, to supply up to 9.6 GW of electricity.

The plan fell apart when it turned out that then-President Jacob Zuma, who would have personally brokered the deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin, had neither the authority nor the political support for it. tying South Africa to what would have been its biggest supply deal ever.

But South Africa still has plans for new nuclear build, and Rosatom remains an “interested seller” even as its government owner turns the world upside down with a war in Europe.

“Rosatom believes that nuclear energy relations should be kept away from politics,” the company told Business Insider South Africa, when asked how the invasion of Ukraine could put jeopardize his plans for South Africa. “Rosatom is committed to and continues to fulfill all of its contractual obligations.”

He did not respond to specific questions, including whether he was concerned about possible South African sanctions against Russia, of the kind Ukraine has urged South Africa to impose.

See also on News24 | Calls on AS to join sanctions against Russia as Ukraine invasion escalates

The South African government on Thursday called on Russia to withdraw its forces from Ukraine, but it did not condemn the invasion beyond its general disapproval of the war. He gave no indication that he would take action, diplomatic or economic, against Russia, and President Cyril Ramaphosa did not personally reiterate the call for a Russian withdrawal on Friday. Instead, he urged the United Nations Security Council to deal with the war.

Other countries have been more pointed in their disapproval – including all the partners who have pledged to inject a massive sum into South Africa’s energy infrastructure.

In November, Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom and France promised South Africa the equivalent of some R130 billion in cheap money to help it switch off coal. Eskom says it has plans ready to absorb some of that money, including expanding its grid to connect non-fossil fuel generators.

The United States and the European Union this week imposed sanctions on Russia in a bid to cut off its government from international capital markets and cut off Russian state-owned banks from international transactions.

These countries have not said how they would feel if their money was used to connect Russian nuclear power plants to the South African power grid, but it is reasonable to assume they would not approve.

Under Rosatom’s previous plans, it would be a major player in the South African grid, generating around a tenth of all electricity used in South Africa from plants it would build and operate.

Previous presentations from the company have included full nuclear fuel life cycle management, which would see it transport enriched nuclear material to South Africa and ship spent fuel back to Russia.

See also | Ukraine says radiation levels around Chernobyl are rising after fighting there

Rosatom did not say whether the sanctions already imposed on Russia would make it more difficult to transport nuclear materials and waste around the world in this way. It is safe to assume that would be the case.

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