January 26, 2018 / 12:36 PM / 2 years ago

South Africa has no money for major nuclear expansion, Ramaphosa says

African National Congress (ANC) President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses supporters during the Congress' 106th anniversary celebrations, in East London, South Africa, January 13, 2018. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko/File Photo

DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) - South Africa does not have money for a major expansion of its nuclear capacity, the new leader of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) said on Thursday, in the clearest sign yet that its ambitious nuclear plans may be put on ice.

President Jacob Zuma has made the nuclear project a priority, but Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who replaced Zuma as ANC leader last month, said the country doesn’t have the cash for it.

“We have to look at where our economy is. We have excess power right now, and we have no money to go for major nuclear plant building,” Ramaphosa told a news conference at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The ANC is discussing removing Zuma as the head of state before his second term ends next year, after years of corruption and other scandals. Ramaphosa is in pole position to take over from him.

South Africa had planned to build an additional 9.6 gigawatt of nuclear capacity in a deal that could be worth tens of billions of dollars to global nuclear reactor vendors. Russia’s Rosatom, South Korea’s Kepco, France’s EDF, Toshiba-owned Westinghouse and China’s CGN were expected to bid for the project.

Energy Minister David Mahlobo said last month - before Ramaphosa defeated Zuma’s preferred candidate in the ANC leadership election - that South Africa would push ahead with its nuclear expansion but at a slower pace than initially planned.

Ramaphosa’s campaign for the ANC leadership had focused on the need to tackle entrenched corruption and rejuvenate the economy.

Zuma’s opponents had raised concerns about a lack of transparency in the nuclear project, as well as about the additional burden it would put on the country’s already strained public finances.

Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba said in October that the state budget could not allow for the building of new nuclear plants but that the project was not “off the agenda”.

Reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram; Writing by Alexander Winning; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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