Energy Intensive User Group of Southern Africa chairman Mike Rossouw. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
Energy Intensive User Group chairman Mike Rossouw says the government needs to use private energy companies to create competition for Eskom. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

RUSSIAN state-owned nuclear energy firm Rosatom has opened an office in South Africa as it looks to bid for nuclear contracts on the continent.

The company said it had not yet decided if it would pursue nuclear energy production in South Africa or other African states, but believed an office in Johannesburg would connect it to various countries. Rosatom is ranked fourth in the world in terms of nuclear electricity generation and has 45% of the world’s uranium enrichment services.

Russian companies including Rosatom are participating at this week’s Brics Summit in Durban, where the possibilities of nuclear projects in South Africa will be discussed. Rosatom’s South African marketing office is the third of its kind in the world for the company after it set up shop in Ukraine and Singapore.

"The Brics summit will give Rosatom the platform to engage with key stakeholders on global politics and share information about its expertise, products and services nuclear technology," Loyiso Langeni, the press secretary of Rosatom Overseas in South Africa, said on Monday.

Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe told the Nuclear Africa 2013 conference in Midrand last week that South Africa needed more nuclear plants to meet rising electricity demand. Nuclear was " ideal … because we can build large power plants at points around our southern coastline and potentially elsewhere".

Industry experts estimated local input into building additional reactors could generate up to R60bn for the country’s nuclear sector. South Africa operates two 900MW pressurised water reactors at the country’s only nuclear power station at Koeberg, north of Cape Town.

The country is trying to find a suitable energy mix for the economy. It remains reliant on coal and needs to diversify.

Energy Intensive User Group chairman Mike Rossouw said last month that the government needed to use private energy companies to create competition for Eskom.

The power utility was seeking 16% increases for its electricity tariffs each year for the next five years. The National Energy Regulator of South Africa has allowed Eskom to hike tariffs only 8% for the next five years.

Mr Rossouw said South Africa was in dire need of an energy plan. "In 1998 or so, we had a white paper on energy policy, (which) included a clear mix of the energy sources we would pursue in the new South Africa.

"But that paper has been forgotten. We need to reassess things. We cannot sit and rely on coal. We need competitors for Eskom … and other sources of energy."

Last month, International Atomic Energy Agency director-general Yukiya Amano said on a visit to South Africa that other African countries, including Nigeria, Kenya and Egypt, were considering nuclear technology.