A request for proposals to build reactors could go out as early as June, as five potential suppliers emerge as leading candidates, the head of the Nuclear Energy Corporation of SA says.

Companies from South Korea, France, China, Russia and Japan "are ahead of everyone else" in terms of technology and what they can offer, Necsa CEO Phumzile Tshelane said in an interview in Tokyo.

Eskom is responsible for the process to hire developers for the nuclear power plants, and SA is looking for reactors that are proven, but not dated, Tshelane said.

"We are not going to build a first of a kind," he said. "Nor are we going to build a last of a kind."

SA’s nuclear investment plans have become a lightning rod issue for critics of President Jacob Zuma’s policies, with opposition parties and civil groups questioning the use of funds even before S&P Global Ratings and Fitch Ratings downgraded the country’s international credit rating to junk.

Phumzile Tshelane. Picture: SUPPLIED
Phumzile Tshelane. Picture: SUPPLIED

The affordability of the new plants was a key point of dispute between Zuma and former finance minister Pravin Gordhan.

A request for information from vendors would close at the end of April, and would be followed by a month-long evaluation before the request for proposals was issued in about June or July, Tshelane said.

Necsa anticipated at least five bids, which would need at least six months to be evaluated and negotiated, with an award expected in the first quarter of 2018, he said.

While one company would be preferred, "the reality is that a one-partner relationship is not possible", Tshelane said.

Necsa is responsible for buying the fuel for the new plants and the project will be co-ordinated by the Department of Energy, according to Eskom spokesman Khulu Phasiwe.


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