MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian energy group Rosatom is a contender for South Africa's nuclear expansion project and the country will award the contract by the end of the year, the chairman of the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) said on Monday.
South Africa is planning to build 9,600 megawatts (MW) of nuclear capacity to wean itself off coal, a project that could be one of the world's biggest nuclear contracts in decades.
Besides Rosatom, major nuclear firms from South Korea, France, the United States and China are interested in bidding for it.
"We are aiming for this to be done before the end of the year, and we very imminently want to start," Kelvin Kemm, Necsa chairman, told Reuters on the sidelines of a nuclear conference in Moscow, when asked when South Africa would make a decision on which company would build the new nuclear reactors.
"Rosatom is definitely in there, but a decision has not been finally made. That will be a decision made by the senior politicians in collaboration with the technological and the company people," Kemm said.
Earlier on Monday, a Rosatom official said the Russian company was in contact with South African authorities over their plans to increase the country's nuclear capacity.
Those plans were disrupted after South Africa's High Court earlier this year deemed a nuclear cooperation pact with Russia unlawful.
In May, state-controlled Rosatom said it was still committed to taking part in a competitive bidding process to build nuclear plants in South Africa. Rosatom was created in 2007 from the Russian Atomic Energy Ministry with a view to turning nuclear power into a major export industry for Russia.
Necsa's Kemm said on Monday that the court ruling had delayed the country's plans by a couple of months.
In response to a question as to whether Rosatom was a leading contender for the planned nuclear expansion, Kemm said: "Absolutely, Rosatom is a very important player".
Reporting by Alexander Winning. Editing by Jane Merriman