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Activists demanding suspension of Koeberg refurbishment have jumped the gun, says regulator

Eskom’s current operating licence for Koeberg expires in 2024 and the refurbishment is required by the NNR. Picture: Bruce Sutherland/City of Cape Town

Eskom’s current operating licence for Koeberg expires in 2024 and the refurbishment is required by the NNR. Picture: Bruce Sutherland/City of Cape Town

Published Jan 13, 2022

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Cape Town - Anti-nuclear activists calling on Eskom to suspend its plans for Koeberg’s refurbishment, starting on Monday, have “jumped the gun”.

The National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) said the replacement of the six steam generators at Eskom’s ageing 1 840MW Koeberg nuclear power station, set to begin on January 17, was necessary maintenance work and not the long-awaited, controversial refurbishment.

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Eskom’s current operating licence for Koeberg expires in 2024 and the refurbishment is required by the NNR.

NNR spokesperson Gino Moonsamy said the work had nothing to do with long-term operations.

“All they are doing is a planned refuelling outage. In terms of longterm operations and plant life extension, which is what everyone is very much interested in at the moment, Koeberg has applied to the NNR for a licence, but this licence has not been granted as yet. It is a process. Our licensing activities are not an event, they are a process,” he said.

Moonsamy said Eskom was merely installing the steam generators and as this exercise did not involve radioactivity, there was no need for them to publish an application for public comment.

However, he said they were still finalizing their review and response on the revised installation safety case for the replacement steam generators.

“Although the outage is scheduled to start on January 17, actual steam generator installation activities are only scheduled to start later in the outage after the reactor has been defueled.”

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Members of the Koeberg Alert Alliance (KAA) had earlier said the work should not go ahead until Eskom revealed the scope of the work being planned, and held a public consultation process. They also questioned the cost involved.

Spokesperson Peter Becker said: “Back in 2010 Eskom said the cost would be R20bn. Now, 12 years later, Eskom says it’s still R20bn. How can that be? The only way is they have reduced the scope of work.”

He said he was concerned that if this was the case, Eskom had decided in secret what part of the work to leave out.

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“These decisions directly affect the safety of the public and should therefore be part of a public consultation process, and not taken behind closed doors,” Becker said.

Southern African Faith Communities Environmental Institutes (SAFCEI) executive director Francesca de Gasparis said the public should be involved in any decision to keep Koeberg running past its sell-by date.

“Citizens, particularly those local to the plant and those within the fuel cycle who may be affected, must be given the opportunity to assess the merits of the proposed extension and must be allowed to agree or disagree, she said.”

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Eskom said should its application for extending Koeberg’s operating life be successful, the replacement of the steam generators would be a requirement.

It said that while the Koeberg refuelling outages would be significantly longer than usual, the complete outage was expected to take about 155 days per unit.

“The replacement would be advantageous as it would reduce the mandatory inspections needed during every outage, the power utility said.

On the question of cost, Eskom said: “The outage work scope involves operational and improvement activities, each of which are processed differently from a timing and financing perspective, so there is no simple one number answer.”

About whether the maintenance exercise would mean power outages, Eskom said the outages for the Koeberg units would be staggered to ensure that both units were not shut down for refuelling at the same time.

It said the planning and scheduling of the maintenance outages for the fossil power stations, take cognisance of the Koeberg outage schedule, to minimise the impact on the electricity supply.

“Unfortunately, the Koeberg refuelling outages are unavoidable and all large power generating units require routine maintenance, which can place the system under pressure.”

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Cape Argus

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