The SA government hasn’t given up the fight for nuclear via The Citizen

Nuclear energy in South Africa is a highly contested issue; so much so that a court recently ruled against the government’s plans to issue a contract for the construction of eight new nuclear power stations. 

Nuclear energy in South Africa is a highly contested issue; so much so that a court recently ruled against the government’s plans to issue a contract for the construction of eight new nuclear power stationsThe Conversation

The ruling appeared to have delivered a significant blow to President Jacob Zuma, and those who support him, who had set their sights on immediate nuclear expansion. The court’s decision was met with jubilation by those opposing the nuclear plan.

The expectation was that the government would appeal the decision. It didn’t, but this shouldn’t be read as a shift in its thinking.


Adding to fears that the government isn’t giving up the fight was the surprise reinstatement of Brian Molefe as CEO of the country’s power utility Eskom. Molefe left the job under a cloud six months ago. His reappointment led to immediate and widespread public outrage. Many have interpreted his return as beefing up the quest for nuclear.

Molefe’s return, however, isn’t as critical to the nuclear project as imagined, as Eskom has maintained his pro-nuclear stance in his absence.

What’s more important is that it’s clear that contestation around the future of South Africa’s energy sector will continue unabated. This despite the president having been severely weakened in recent months, and with it the power of the pro-nuclear lobby supported by his faction.


The latest draft, published in 2016, does not foresee any need for nuclear for the next 20 years. Studies have also shown that a larger renewable energy investment is more feasible in South Africa than was previously thought.

Nuclear’s main drawback is the excessively high costs. It has been widely argued that this technology is unaffordable.

So why the inexplicable urgency to drive this highly expensive programme?

One answer is that it shows there’s massive outside pressure influencing the push. The influence over the president enjoyed by politically connected business people, in particular the Gupta family, suggests that local oligarchs might be manipulating the president.


The political terrain will become even trickier after that as the country will go to the polls in a general election in 2019. The ruling party won’t be able to afford being associated with a controversial nuclear agenda during an election year.

Hartmut Winkler, Professor of Physics, University of Johannesburg

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