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Zuma goes nuclear to stem energy crisis


New York

SOUTH African President Jacob Zuma said his priority is to solve the energy crisis in the country that’s curbing output at mines and factories and stifling economic growth, including adding more nuclear power by 2023.

“We will pursue gas, petroleum, nuclear, hydropower and other sources as part of the energy mix,” Mr Zuma (72) said in his annual state-of-the-nation speech in Parliament in Cape Town on Thursday. “The country is currently experiencing serious energy constraints which are an impediment to economic growth and is a major inconvenience to everyone in the country.”

Mr Zuma’s speech follows nine consecutive days of rolling blackouts implemented as demand for power outstripped supply. State utility Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd, which provides 95 percent of the nation’s electricity, has warned of almost-daily blackouts until the end of April.

The power crisis has soured investor appetite for South Africa’s currency and debt. The rand reached a 13-year low against the dollar on Wednesday and foreigners dumped 6.9 billion rand ($590 million) of the nation’s bonds since 3 February, the first day of blackouts. The outages have curbed mining production and forced businesses to shut doors at peak times, crimping growth in Africa’s most-industrialized economy.

The government is seeking to build a 9 600 megawatt nuclear-energy programme, with the first power from the source in eight years, Mr Zuma said. South Africa has signed agreements and carried out vendor workshops with the US, South Korea, Russia, France and China, he said.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace Africa has strongly condemned Mr Zuma’s announcement to pursue “dead end nuclear investments at a time when South Africa requires immediate solutions and a new approach to electricity supply”.

“The reality is that nuclear energy delivers far too little, far too late and at too high a cost. Nuclear projects take at least 15 years to build and it is clear from the President’s continued commitment to nuclear power that the current government does not actually care about the state of the nation,” Greenpeace Africa said in a statement.

“Greenpeace urges the president to seriously rethink the government’s position on nuclear power – which would take at least 15 years to deliver – and to urgently prioritise renewable energy investments which can quickly take South Africa out of the current electricity crisis.”

Greenpeace Africa said South Africa’s electricity security lies in a commitment to removing the barriers to renewable energy, which would enable ordinary South Africans to generate their own power and contribute to energy sufficiency for all.

“Greenpeace urges the government to step away from dodgy nuclear deals, and choose renewable energy opportunities instead,” it said.

Game Changer

Shale gas in the Karoo region, and the search for oil and gas offshore could be “a game changer” for the country, Mr Zuma said.

South Africa’s central bank cut its 2015 growth forecast to 2.2 percent on 29 January from 2.5 percent two months earlier. The government is targeting a growth rate of five percent by 2019.

Mr Zuma, a former intelligence operative, took office for a second five-year term in May after the African National Congress won a fifth straight election with 62.2 percent of the vote. His administration’s economic policy is to implement the 20-year National Development Plan that seeks to cut the jobless rate to 14 percent by 2020 from 24 percent.

Mr Zuma’s speech was disrupted by the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters who sought to pressure him to repay state funds spent on his private home. Parliament sent in security personnel to eject the party’s lawmakers from the chamber. The Democratic Alliance, the biggest opposition group, walked out in protest at the presence of armed security in the legislature.

A report released in March by Thuli Madonsela, the nation’s graft ombudsman, alleged Zuma unduly benefited from the 215 million-rand renovation of his residence in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province. Mr Zuma denied ordering the alterations, which included a swimming pool, chicken run and cattle enclosure. – Bloomberg/News24.


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