Spanner in nuclear works

31 March 2016 - 02:18 By Jan-Jan Joubert
Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson. File photo.
Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson. File photo.
Image: Gallo Images / Nardus Engelbrecht

Leading environmentalists and activists are filing court papers alleging that Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson acted unconstitutionally in not submitting the government's nuclear deal with Russia to parliament.

If successful, the court case will significantly delay the government's nuclear plans.

Earthlife Africa and the Southern African Faith Communities' Environment Institute yesterday filed and served a supplementary founding affidavit in their challenge.

Joemat-Petterssen has gone on record saying there will be a transparent, fair process when it comes to procurement, but documents uncovered by Safcei and ELA as part of their court action reveal a different story, they claim.

The two groups claim an agreement was entered into unlawfully to buy nuclear reactors from Russia.

"From the state law adviser's explanatory memorandum, prepared in November 2013 but only revealed now, it is evident that the Russian agreement is to build reactors and an enrichment plant, and that other subsequent agreements would cover the details of how it is to be financed," said Liz McDaid of Safcei.

According to the records, the state law adviser also said that the agreement required parliamentary approval and should have been tabled under section 231 (2) of the constitution.

The minister tabled it in terms of section 231 (3), thereby sidestepping the public participation required during the process of parliamentary approval.

"Major warning lights should be flashing," stated McDaid.

"The implications of the manner in which the minister tabled the agreement, against the advice of her own legal advisers, is that it locked South Africa into a 20-year deal with Russia without any public debate over whether the country can afford it or not.

"Section 34 of the Electricity Regulation Act requires that the national energy regulator make decisions in concurrence with the minister of energy. Such decisions must be in the public interest, require public participation and must be publicly available," said ELA representative Dominique Doyle.

"The records show Nersa's failure to reveal that [it] and the Department of Energy had between them agreed to procure nuclear power," stated Doyle.

DA MP Gordon Mackay said the revelations made a mockery of Joemat-Pettersson's assurances of transparency and provide a firm basis for delaying the commencement of nuclear procurement process, set to start next month.

"I will request that minister Joemat-Pettersson immediately halt the procurement process until a court ruling is made as to the legality thereof," said Mackay.