CAPE TOWN, South Africa — The South African government announced plans on Tuesday to build new nuclear power stations to generate more electricity amid an energy crisis and regular blackouts in the continent’s most advanced economy.
The move to invite bids to build the stations — which will take at least a decade to be ready, according to officials — was immediately criticized by the main political opposition party, which said that Russian state-owned nuclear agency Rosatom was the South African government’s “preferred partner.”
Government officials didn’t name any potential bidders and only outlined the start of the process.
But the criticism by the opposition Democratic Alliance was linked to a major nuclear deal that South Africa signed with Russia in 2014 worth an estimated $76 billion that was shrouded in secrecy and canceled by a South African court in 2017 for being illegal and unconstitutional. It was tarnished with allegations of large-scale corruption and was signed under the leadership of former South African President Jacob Zuma, who is now on trial on unrelated corruption charges.
Plans for the new nuclear stations came a day after the South African government approved an agreement with Russian bank Gazprombank to restart a gas-to-liquids oil refinery on South Africa’s south coast, which has been out of operation since 2020. Gazprombank is among numerous Russian financial institutions sanctioned by the United States.
The South African government said that Gazprombank “would share in the risk and rewards of reinstatement of the refinery” once the details of the agreement were finalized, which was expected to be in April.
South Africa currently has one nuclear plant, the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station, around 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of Cape Town. It is the only one on the African continent.
Numerous other African countries, including Burkina Faso, Mali, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia and Egypt have been linked with nuclear power agreements with Russia or have agreements to build nuclear power plants.
Many parts of Africa have unreliable electricity supplies, providing opportunities for Russia’s nuclear business, but also giving it the chance to extend its political influence on the continent amid the collapse of its relationship with the West over the war in Ukraine.
Zizamele Mbambo, the deputy director-general of nuclear energy in the South African government’s Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, said the tender process for the new power stations would be open and transparent and had been approved by the energy regulator. The stations would be completed by 2032 or 2033 at the earliest, he said.
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