Nuclear deal with Russia would have solved electricity crisis: Jacob Zuma

Former President Jacob Zuma.
Former President Jacob Zuma.

Former president Jacob Zuma has defended his lobby for a proposed R1-trillion nuclear energy deal with Russia‚ saying it would have solved the country’s electricity crisis.

“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’s a problem‚” he told Business Day in an exclusive interview with Karyn Maughan‚ published on Friday.

A deal with Russia’s Rosatom would have been in SA’s best interests‚ he added.

South Africa is reeling after days of rotational load-shedding‚ often continuing throughout the night‚ as embattled power utility Eskom grapples with multiple plant breakdowns and struggles to meet demand for electricity.

The blackouts have caused traffic mayhem‚ forced small businesses to turn away customers and disrupted the economy.

And there is no quick fix on the cards.

"It's going to be a huge struggle ahead … to actually overcome this crisis. We'll get it right in the next year or two‚" acknowledged public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan at a media briefing on the power crisis on Tuesday.

Eskom board chair Jabu Mabuza admitted at the briefing that the power utility had spent R5bn on diesel in less than a year to run open-cycle gas-turbine peaking plants to keep the lights on – a prohibitively expensive and unsustainable exercise.

Zuma told Business Day that nuclear energy proposals by some countries were “very limited”. A deal with Russia would have been in the country’s best interests.

“Russia carried the biggest load in supporting us. Russia looked after our health‚ they never charged us a penny. So we cannot‚ when we are now free‚ forget about people who were our friends at the time of need‚” he added.

The Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture has heard evidence by former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene that he was axed for refusing to endorse a nuclear deal.

It would have caused our country to breach the expenditure ceiling
Lungisa Fuzile, fotmer Treasury 

Former National Treasury director-general Lungisa Fuzile told the inquiry in February that if Zuma’s proposed nuclear deal had gone through‚ government would have breached the expenditure ceiling it set for itself.

The plan would have seen South Africa purchasing 9‚600 megawatts of extra nuclear power from the Russians at a cost of about R1tn.

"It would have caused our country to breach the expenditure ceiling that government had set for itself‚" said Fuzile.

Quoting Gordhan‚ who was finance minister when the deal was proposed‚ Fuzile said that should anything go wrong it would make the arms deal "look like a Sunday school picnic".

- TMG Digital

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