Pretoria - France has a "trump card" up its sleeve to help South Africa afford the planned giant nuclear power plant project - and therefore to help France win the bid.
Visiting French Minister of Economy and Finance Michel Sapin met his SA counterpart Pravin Gordhan on Friday.
He explained to Gordhan that “France has the capacity to finance and bring guarantees to the financing of this [nuclear] project.”
Sapin was asked at a press conference if Gordhan had told him that the fleet of reactors - which could be as many as six and could cost at least one trillion rand - was affordable.
Gordhan is believed to have strong reservations about the affordability of the project and this is thought to be a major bone of contention between him and President Jacob Zuma.
Sapin said it was legitimate that the SA government was asking questions about the affordability of the project. But if one assessed electricity consumption in the country it was clear there would be a need for more electricity in coming years.
The SA government had told him several companies had the capacity to answer the government's "request for information” and its “request for proposals” to build the power plants.
He said he had reminded the SA government of the quality and the know-how of the French companies in nuclear energy sector.
“I explained to the minister that France has the capacity to finance and bring guarantees to the financing of this project. There are several important aspects of the French offer, its technical quality and also the way the French offer will fit into the South African socio-economic balance, and how it will respond to the needs of South Africa."
He added that he had asked Gordhan to maintain “full transparency on the process” with France.
“France is not afraid of competition and is not afraid of transparency. The best for South Africa should win. And we have trump cards up our sleeve to be able to meet those challenges.”
Sapin’s request to Gordhan seemed to refer to the persistent rumours in South Africa that Zuma had already given the nuclear contract to Russia and that his government is just going through the motions of requesting bids from other countries.
But Sapin said he believed the competition for the contract was still open and still at the very beginning and that it would be fair.
He also explained that the two French companies involved in the bid, EDF (Electricité de France) and Areva, who were working on the project together, had not yet responded to the SA government’s request for information because the deadline for doing so had not yet expired. “But they will. And they have the will to win the contest.”
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