South Africa’s former President Mr. Jacob Zuma, whose administration has been blamed for the power outages his country is experiencing, has said the power crisis could have been averted if only the country had built nuclear reactors.

In an interview with Business Day on Friday, Zuma said the costly nuclear build programme he supported during his presidency could have “solved our problems, once and for all”.

Zuma, who resigned as president in mid-February 2018, said the Russians would have been the most trustworthy country to carry out the project, because of their support in the struggle against apartheid.

Proposals to build a second nuclear power station, with an estimated cost to the economy of around R1trn, were criticised as unaffordable during Zuma’s term.

The DA Public Enterprises spokesperson, Natasha Mazzone, said on Friday that a nuclear build would be an “impossibility” given the current state of the economy.

“Our country is in a much worse economic position that we were a few years ago, we simply cannot afford nuclear. Instead, we need to diversify our energy mix by bringing renewable energy to the grid,” said Mazzone.

Zuma’s spokesperson Vukile Mathabela did not immediately reply to a request for comment on Friday.

‘If we went for nuclear’

The president, however, told Business Day he is convinced nuclear is the right way to go.

“We are going to pay trillions of rand because of the problems of energy….but if we went for nuclear, we will be out of spending trillions for a shorter amount of time and we’ll make more trillions,” he told the newspaper.

South Africans has been experiencing rolling blackouts for the past week as Eskom grapples with a shortage of available capacity.

According to Eskom, the shortages have been caused by a lack of diesel supplies, scheduled and unscheduled outages at generation units, and the devastating effect of a cyclone that hit Mozambique on transmission lines.

“The fact of the matter is nuclear could solve our problems, once and for all.”

“Now we are in deep [trouble], we are therefore increasing the debt of the country with no hope to bring it down. That is the problem,” said Zuma.

A High Court in 2017 halted the country’s nuclear ambition, ruling that the procurement processes was unlawful, following an application by environmental activists.

The court quashed the government’s attempts to secure 9.6 GW of nuclear power, including the initial determination to procure nuclear energy in 2013, the cooperation agreements signed with Russia, the US and South Korea, as well as former energy minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson’s decision to hand over the procurement of nuclear energy to Eskom in 2016.

“Russia carried the biggest load in supporting us. So we cannot, when we are now free, forget about people who were our friends at the time of need,” Zuma told Business Day.

While nuclear still forms part of SA’s energy mix, there are currently no plans to move forward with procuring new nuclear-powered reactors.

In July 2018, at a BRICS meeting in Johannesburg, President Cyril Ramaphosa told Russian President Vladimir Putin that South Africa could not afford new nuclear reactors.


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