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Concerns over SA's readiness for nuclear deal

It has emerged the agreement between South Africa and Russia is still in its early stages.

FILE: Russian President Vladimir Putin hugs South Africa President Jacob Zuma before a meeting at the BRICS summit in Durban on 26 March, 2013. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG -Questions have been raised about whether South Africa is ready to cope with a multi-billion rand power plant.

Yesterday, Minister of Energy Tina Joemat-Pettersson announced that South Africa had signed a deal with Russia's Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation to procure 9.6 gigawatts of nuclear power by 2030.

It has now emerged the agreement is still in early stages.

According to news agency Reuters, government officials in Vienna say the deal is part of a tender process that will involve other competing countries.

"There will be a South African procurement process of course. There will be other inter-government agreements signed," said Xolisa Mabhongo, an executive at South African state agency Nuclear Energy Corporation.

There would be a bidding process before any final contracts were signed, Mabhongo said from Vienna, where the agreement was signed.

"They jumped the gun," a senior South African government source, who is part of the country's delegation to an International Atomic Energy Agency conference in Vienna, told Reuters.

"These kinds of inter-governmental agreements are standard with nuclear vendor countries. We foresee that similar agreements will be signed with other nuclear vendor countries, France, China, Korea, the US and Japan."

Nuclear power experts say the project is not only risky in terms of safety issues but it's also extremely costly.

Some have argued that it will take more than a decade to build a nuclear power plant and therefore won't help the current energy crisis in the country.

Greenpeace's Melita Steele says nuclear is a dead-end option.

"The reality is nuclear is neither safe nor cheap."

While _Mail & Guardian _science editor Sarah Wild questioned how South Africa will deal with a project of this magnitude.

While the finer details of the deal haven't yet been disclosed, the project is expected to cost anywhere between R400 billion and R1 trillion.

South Africa is struggling to meet rising electricity demand due to ageing infrastructure and its failure to build new power plants in over two decades.

It is home to one nuclear power station that provides around 5 percent of the country's 42,000 megawatts of installed generating capacity. Nearly all the rest comes from coal.