PhotoElectricity pylons carry power from Cape Town”s Koeberg nuclear power plant, file.

CAPE TOWN – South Africa’s controversial push to build a fleet of new nuclear plants suffered a setback on Wednesday after the High Court set aside the procurement process and a pre-agreement with Russia.

South Africa, which has the continent’s only nuclear power station, has asked power utility Eskom to procure an additional 9,600 megawatts (MW) of new capacity as it diversifies its energy mix away from ageing coal-fired plants.

The expansion plan is opposed by environmental and clean-energy groups, while some economists have said the country’s ailing economy cannot afford to build new nuclear plants whose costs are estimated around 1 trillion rand ($76 billion).

Judge Lee Bozalek said any request for proposal or request for information to kickstart the procurement process was set aside as well as a deal to cooperate with Russia on the plan.

“The minister’s decision on or about 10 June 2015 to table the Russian IGA before parliament… is unconstitutional and unlawful and it is reviewed and set aside,” he said.

In late 2014, then energy minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson signed an Intergovernmental Agreement, with Russia state nuclear company Rosatom, saying the countries would cooperate in reactors with total installed capacity of up to 9,600 MW.

It was not immediately clear whether the government would appeal the ruling.

Both Eskom and the Department of Energy declined to comment on the ruling.

($1 = 13.1237 rand)

(Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Writing by Mfuneko Toyana; Editing by James Macharia)

Source: Reuters

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