NUCLEAR energy group Westinghouse Electric has kept its eyes on SA's lucrative nuclear fleet tender as it considers restructuring its South African operations, which is likely to affect some of its local employees.

Westinghouse said the consolidation of the operations would strengthen its capability to tender a successful nuclear bid.

The restructuring could be a change of direction by the company ahead of what is likely to be intense lobbying for the lucrative nuclear projects, estimated to be worth at least R300bn.

Major global energy companies - including Westinghouse - are lining up to bag the project. The government has yet to announce the nuclear tender.

The company said yesterday it had 63 employees in SA, and it was premature to say how many would be affected "as we (have) just begun a consultation process with our employees about the possible consolidation or restructuring of our operations in SA".

It would not say if the restructuring would include retrenchments. Westinghouse said that should it be successful in the nuclear bid, it would deploy "the necessary resources" in SA.

Westinghouse, which is part of Toshiba Corporation, is one of the world's largest nuclear energy companies. The company said its nuclear technology was the basis for half of the world's operating nuclear plants.

A few years ago, Westinghouse and another major energy company, Areva of France, were in the running for Eskom's tender to build a new nuclear plant.

In what was a major blow to the two companies, Eskom decided not to proceed with the project in December 2008.

"As a result of the changes in the South African nuclear market, some consolidation of our operations (personnel and sites) may be necessary in the near future as part of a realigned strategy in order to better prepare Westinghouse to meet the future needs of the South African nuclear industry," Westinghouse vice-president and MD for France, Benelux and SA, François Harari, said yesterday.

The company's commitment to SA and its nuclear industry was "unshaken".

It would focus on its support for the Koeberg nuclear power station "and promote local technology transfer and participation in these projects".

Mr Harari said that Westinghouse's reactor technology was ideal for SA. "And our business model is an economic stimulus package in and of itself, unsurpassed in its ability to generate thousands of long-term, well-paying jobs across a broad range of business sectors throughout SA."

The integrated resource plan for electricity (IRP2010) has allocated 9,600MW to nuclear power in the period up to 2030.

Westinghouse said it had initiated a consultation process with staff on the possible restructuring of its operations in Centurion and Big Bay in the Western Cape, "in view in view of recent developments in the South African market and in an endeavour to refocus its efforts to support the Koeberg nuclear power station and in anticipation of nuclear new build in the near future".

njobenis@bdfm.co.za