Koeberg Nuclear Plant Life Extension Must Shift to Safe Permanent Shutdown

Open-Ed

  • When it comes to the Koeberg nuclear plant, one upcoming regulatory requirement and a concern for those advocating for a life extension is getting approval from the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR).
  • The current operating licence expires in July 2024, and without the NNR granting a life extension, this is when the plant will have to be permanently shut down.
  • Eskom, who owns and manages the plant, have themselves identified poor project management, inadequate contract management and a lack of financial discipline which is not only compromising the plant refurbishment programme but also plant security and safety. 

To date, things have been going very badly at Koeberg. Incompetence resulted in a R1.1bn penalty recently being charged by Framatome when they arrived to work on refurbishing unit 2, only to find Eskom was not ready for the work to commence. The current outage of unit 2 which began on 18 January 2022, failed to achieve the primary goal which was the replacement of the three steam generators. Despite this, for reasons unknown, the outage was still planned to last five months. That turned into six months, then seven, and now is predicted to be seven and a half months. This has cost the economy tens of billions due to additional and unnecessary load shedding, and has so far cost Eskom at least R2.4bn in unnecessary diesel costs.

Related news: South Africa’s nuclear regulator CEO resigns amid Koeberg controversy

Eskom originlly planned to attempt the same work on unit 1 in October, which will remove approximately 1GW from the grid at a time when the country can least afford it. This now has shifted to December. As the bungling at Koeberg continues, the NNR is about to announce a public consultation process around the decision whether or not to grant the Koeberg life extension. This was planned for “mid-2022” according to previous statements which is a bit unusual in that Eskom has clearly already committed billions of rand to the refurbishment required for a life extension despite regulatory approval not yet being granted.

Related news: Leak from steam generator shuts down Unit 1 at Koeberg power station

How meaningful will a public consultation process be when Eskom has already spent tens of billions of Rand based on the assumption the NNR will grant the extension? This is not lost on the NNR, who submitted an Annual Performance Plant to parliament earlier this year which identified “undue pressure to grant the LTO” (Long Term Operation) licence as a serious and unmitigated risk to the organisation.

Related news: Eskom defers Unit 2 steam generator replacement at Koeberg nuclear power station

Meanwhile over the two years, an estimated 250 to 300 skilled people have left Koeberg for greener pastures. This forced Eskom COO Jan Oberholzer to point out in a media briefing late last year that the loss of skilled personnel presented an additional risk to the Koeberg life extension project. This includes the recent resignation of Eskom’s chief nuclear officer, Mr Riedewaan Barkadien, who took up an executive position at a Canadian nuclear power facility. Read more 

Related news: Eskom finds airborne contamination at Koeberg Nuclear plant

In their presentation to a joint meeting of Parliament’s Portfolio Committees on Mineral Resources and Public Enterprises on Tuesday this week, Eskom shared technical details on the refurbishment of Koeberg; they said that that the scope of refuelling Outage 225 on Koeberg Unit 2 was originally intended to include the replacement of the steam generators on Unit 2. However, they had to remove the project from Outage 225 due to several serious deficiencies in the front-end loading of the project, which would have caused significant delays to the outage, which Eskom and the country could not afford. ‘Both Eskom and the contractor have contributed to these deficiencies and there are several associated disputes between Eskom and the contractor which are currently subject to dispute adjudication,’ their report reads.

Related news: Eskom’s life extension programme of Koeberg Nuclear plant poses significant risk

“An example cited by the contractor regarding Eskom’s role in contributing towards the project not commencing as scheduled include that the facilities, which were required to house the old steam generators, once removed, were not ready for use. Eskom has identified poor project management, inadequate contract management and a lack of financial discipline as being contributory factors towards the project not commencing as scheduled,” it said in its report.

Keith Featherstone, Eskom’s acting chief nuclear officer has confirmed that the steam generator replacements are now scheduled for Outage 126 on Unit 1, which starts during December this year, and Outage 226 for Unit 2, which is currently scheduled to start in October 2023. “The change does not alter the overall life extension plan for Koeberg, but the compensation events and the CPAs [contract price adjustments]will have an impact on the cost allocation, which is still in the process of being finalised,” he said.

While Eskom forges ahead with the life extension programme, many industry and nuclear experts are advising that perhaps it would be better at concentrating on how to shut the plant down permanently, in a way that would render the site safe for future generations.

Related news: South Africa’s Nuclear Sector has Failed its Test – the Koeberg Nuclear Plant Life Extension

Bryan Groenendaal

Partial content source: Koeberg Alert Alliance

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