A Russian nuclear union that is keen to win labour support for South Africa's new build programme will have a tough job winning over trade federation Cosatu.
The campaign is part of Rosatom’s bid to win the 9.6 GW nuclear build programme, which is planned to take place from 2023 to 2030.
Igor Fomichev, president of the Russian Trade Union of Nuclear Power and Industry Workers, told Fin24 this week at the Nuclear Africa Conference outside Johannesburg that Cosatu members are interested in his presentation and “agreed to further relations”.
However, Cosatu spokersperon Sizwe Pamla said while members of the National Union of Mineworkers affiliated to Cosatu might have attended the conference, this was not on Cosatu’s watch.
“Cosatu is strongly opposed to nuclear energy,” he said telephonically on Friday. The federation believes it is costly, takes long to build and is risky to the environment and the health of South Africans.
“In debates where money is involved, there are strong proponents and opponents,” he said. “The biggest success of the nuclear lobby is to infiltrate groups like unions in the hope they can raise their issues.”
Fomichev told Fin24 there is a need to explain to people that “nuclear is only bringing good… in an open and direct way”.
He said it is the first time a Russian trade union is visiting South Africa and his aim is “to establish relationships and invite workers from Cosatu to tour Russia”.
Pamla welcomed the effort, saying Cosatu is willing to listen to everyone’s views. However, he maintained that the nuclear programme will simply be too expensive for a country with far more pressing issues within a struggling economic environment.
“It's just expensive,” he said. “Energy is not the only problem in South Africa. We have financial issues that are intensified due to the drought, food supply and the issue of water generation, which is going to be critical.
“We need to spend a lot of money on that side,” he said. “We can't be so concerned about electricity that everything else goes. About 60% of South Africans take less than R5 000 home a month. We don't have a tax base. The middle class is being punished and taking over responsibilities of funding everything.”
Pamla said there are alternatives to solving energy supply constraints that wouldn’t take crucial funds away from efforts to reduce socio-economic disparities.
He said renewable energy projects in the country and resources like hydro and gas in Southern African Development Community countries mean South Africa is rich in resources to generate electricity without the reliance on nuclear.
“We need to invest in our infrastructure such as electricity, because this is crucial for business to expand,” he said. “However, we need to look at the cost of doing business. We need to look broadly at expenditure, because we don't have money to spend.
“We have multiple challenges,” he said. “Energy generation stimulates the economy and reduces unemployment, but we need to be more sober when looking at these commitments. It will be a burden on the next generation.”
Fomichev and Irina Manina, project director of JSC Rusatom Overseas, both pointed out the job creation opportunities Rosatom would bring to South Africa should it win the nuclear bid.
In its integrated offer, Manina said Rosatom would create 10 200 construction and engineering jobs, 10 000 related industries and consumer goods sector jobs, and 5 760 nuclear power plant operation jobs for 60 years.
Fomichev added that between 30 000 and 40 000 indirect jobs would be created once the construction workers leave.
He said the Cosatu members at the conference were interested in his research, in which it was found that for each job created at the workplace an additional 12 or 13 jobs would be created in the service sector, such as utilities, transport, food and communications.
In reaction, Pamla said one should be cautious when jobs are promised as they often don’t materialise.
“We have to be very careful, especially when we have learned from past lessons,” he said. “Two decades later, we are still grappling with the Arms Deal. Everything else is collapsing because of this. Has it helped address socio-economic issues? I don’t think so.”
“The Arms Deal was going to create jobs, which didn’t happen, but what we paid has ballooned. We have learned from these big deals.”