After the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima in Japan led many countries to cut back nuclear programmes, South Africa is one of the few still considering a major new reactor project and the tender is eagerly awaited by manufacturers in South Korea, France, the US and China.
With US firm Westinghouse in Chapter 11 proceedings and France’s Areva being restructured, Rosatom’s two main competitors are hamstrung by financial difficulties, boosting the Russian firm’s chances.
China has little experience building reactors abroad and Korea’s Kepco has only one major foreign reactor contract, in the United Arab Emirates.
France, which built South Africa’s two existing reactors, is keen to stay in the race and utility EDF, which is taking over Areva’s reactor manufacturing unit, said last month it would respond to Pretoria’s “request for information”.
Eskom sees nuclear as an option to replace coal-fired power, but some economists have questioned whether the country’s ailing economy can afford a nuclear building programme they estimate could cost around R1 trillion.
Some pundits say former finance minister Pravin Gordhan was fired partly because he resisted pressure from a faction allied to President Jacob Zuma to back nuclear expansion.
New Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba has said nuclear expansion would only be pursued if it is affordable.
SA Communist Party spokesperson Alex Mashilo said: “The SACP supports our country’s shift to an energy mix in principle, but is strongly opposed to the subverting of the rule of democratic law and applicable processes.
“The government must take the message from the judgment to heart. It must follow procedures to the letter, and with due regard to affordability and the interests of the nation, the majority of whom is working class and poor,” Mashilo said.
The Young Communist League of South Africa national chairperson Yershen Pillay said the ruling was a blow to the Guptas and Russians who were pushing for it.
“The YCLSA has always maintained that nuclear energy is necessary, but not on the scale determined by government and certainly not for the benefit of Gupta-owned companies and Russian oligarchs,” Pillay said.
“We should spend less on nuclear energy and more on the provision of free higher education for the poor and the implementation of national health insurance.”