Eskom suspends 8 senior staff over Medupi explosion

Eight Eskom employees were suspended over the devastating explosion at the utility’s Medupi power station earlier this month.

This was revealed during a presentation of Parliament’s portfolio committee on public enterprises, which addressed governance and financial challenges at state-owned enterprises.

The eight people suspended include an operating manager, outage manager, two shift managers, and four senior plant operators.

Medupi Unit 4 suffered enormous damage after a blast on the evening of Sunday, 8 August.

The unit had been taken offline two days prior for repairs to milling components.

Before work could begin, however, the generator had to be purged of hydrogen, which is done by first pumping carbon dioxide into the system to displace the hydrogen.

Once the hydrogen is cleared, air (including oxygen) is added to make the sealed generator safe for workers.

A preliminary investigation by Eskom showed that the procedure for purging of the generator might not have been followed, which meant that hydrogen had remained present when oxygen was pumped into the generator.

This volatile mix of hydrogen and oxygen was sparked, causing an explosion that was felt 10km away in the town of Lephalale (Ellisras). Some residents had mistaken it for an earthquake.

Damaged generator at Medupi Unit 4

The Department of Public Enterprises said that an Inspector of Machinery had completed a site inspection of the unit, and a recovery manager has been appointed.

Eskom Rotek Industries will also strip the plant to assess the full extent of the damage.

The power utility has further involved General Electric, which now owns the original generator manufacturer Alstom, to assist in repairing the unit and returning it to service.

Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter previously told Fin24 that the unit would have to be replaced, which could cost between R1.5 billion and R2 billion. He estimated this process could take around two years.

The unavailability of Medupi Unit 4 has taken a critical 794MW of potential generating capacity off the grid, increasing Eskom’s reliance on emergency generation reserves to avoid load-shedding.

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Eskom suspends 8 senior staff over Medupi explosion