Eskom Medupi power station.
Eskom Medupi power station.

ENERGY Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson had instructed officials to finalise and issue a request for proposals for the government’s 9,600MW nuclear build programme by the end of this month, the department’s director-general Thabane Zulu said in Parliament on Wednesday.

The intention of the request was to test the market and gather information, so the department can formulate a funding plan, he said.

Mr Zulu’s disclosure that implementation of the government’s nuclear plan is gathering pace came as rating agency Moody’s noted that its planned review of SA’s fiscal and economic prospects would include an assessment of "the implications of expensive schemes, such as nuclear energy and the National Health Insurance, for the government’s finances in an environment of rising interest rates".

The Treasury has allocated R200m for preparatory work on the nuclear energy project which Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has emphasised could take several years to finalise. He has also stressed that its go-ahead will depend on affordability.

Mr Zulu told members of Parliament’s public enterprises committee that his department had concluded negotiations with the Treasury on key aspects of the nuclear procurement strategy. Publication of the request for proposals would take place once discussions on this strategy between the department, the Treasury and the office of the independent power producers were finalised.

Strategic talks would also have to be held with Eskom which had been designated as the operator for future nuclear plants.

Mr Zulu said his department had put together a tight technical team to prepare the request for proposal.

"We want to make sure that the process plan is thorough, effective and properly implemented," he said after the committee meeting was briefed by Eskom CEO Brian Molefe and other Eskom executives.

He explained that the request for proposals was based on the Cabinet’s decision to go ahead with the nuclear build programme and was aimed at testing the market in terms of SA’s state of readiness for the project and the best funding model to use.

Suppliers would submit technology and funding proposals. The request would give guidance on the best, cost-effective method. The government could then, on this basis, determine a funding model.

There was a difference between a request for proposals and tenders, though tenders might not be necessary if any of the proposals met the government’s requirements, Mr Zulu said.