Russia is hopeful about its chances of supplying South Africa with new nuclear power plants (NPPs) to help meet the country’s future energy needs. During last month’s visit to Russia by President Jacob Zuma, South African Energy Minister Dipuo Peters held talks with Rosatom director-general Sergey Kirienko.
Rosatom is Russia’s State-owned nuclear energy company responsible for all aspects of the country’s nuclear energy, including mining uranium, producing nuclear fuel and designing, building and operating NPPs. It also undertakes basic and applied nuclear science, owns and operates the world’s only fleet of nuclear-powered icebreakers and produces radio isotopes for nuclear medicine.
Further, it undertakes nuclear and radiation safety and nuclear decommissioning activities (not to be confused with the activities of Russia’s independent Federal Environmental, Industrial and Nuclear Supervision Service). A spin-off activity is the development and manufacture of carbon-fibre-based composites.
The Rosatom group comprises more than 240 companies and other entities and employs some 270 000 people. It is responsible for generating 16% of Russia’s electricity and mines 8% of the world’s uranium, has 17% of the global nuclear fuel market and provides 40% of the world’s uranium enrichment services. The company’s civil nuclear energy activities – from mining to producing electricity – are concentrated in its Atomenergoprom subsidiary (the name is an acronym for Atomic Energy Power Corporation).
Atomenergoprom is itself composed of more than 80 companies.
The nuclear icebreaker fleet is operated by a separate Rosatom subsidiary, Atomflot. Currently, Atomflot has six nuclear- powered icebreakers, one nuclear-powered icebreaking cargo ship designed to carry lighters (barges) and/or containers, two maintenance and support ships and one liquid radioactive waste tanker.
At their meeting, in the Russian Black Sea resort town of Sochi, Zuma and President Vladimir Putin agreed to strengthen bilateral cooperation in the nuclear field. They also agreed that this cooperation should be comprehensive in scope, covering the entire civil nuclear energy chain, from uranium mining through the manufacture of fuel to the production of energy by NPPs. The financing of South Africa’s planned new NPP programme was apparently also discussed.
Putin had previously made clear his country’s willingness to cooperate with, and assist, South Africa in the broad civil nuclear energy sector. He has reiterated this publicly twice this year already – at the Brazil Russia, India, China and South Africa (Brics) summit in Durban in March, and at the bilateral Sochi meeting last month. In Durban, Putin affirmed that “Russia offers help not just in the construction of separate nuclear power units but also in the development of the advanced nuclear industry in South Africa: from mining the feedstock, construction of nuclear power plants and research reactors through design and domestic production of nuclear power equipment”. At Sochi, he told the media: “Russia stands ready to help create a comprehensive nuclear power industry in South Africa.”
The Russians are expecting a very strong and high-level South African delegation to attend the International Atomic Energy Agency’s International Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Power in the 21st Century, to be held in St Petersburg, Russia, at the end of this month. It is likely that the delegation will be led by Minister Peters.
Of course, the talks between the two Presidents last month covered a number of other topics as well, including Brics matters. One of these was the proposed Brics development bank, with both sides recognising that many details concerning this institution have yet to be settled.