Eskom’s big Koeberg nuclear power plant problem

Eskom had not completed the containment building needed to store radioactive parts before shutting down Koeberg’s Unit 2 for scheduled maintenance.

Energy expert and EE Business Intelligence managing director Chris Yelland told Talk 702 that the project should never have gotten the green light from the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR).

“How they allowed this project to proceed with this containment building not being completed is completely beyond me,” he said.

The containment building is needed to house the old radioactive steam generators while the power plant is being maintained and upgraded.

“It is a serious lapse of both Eskom and the National Nuclear Regulator and has resulted in this life extension being [delayed].”

Eskom announced last week that it had delayed scheduled repairs to steam generators at the nuclear power plant after an inspection with Framatome, the main contractor, revealed that the maintenance would take longer than expected.

This means the steam generator replacements would only be conducted in August 2023.

“It is going to take another five months because they have stopped work on the steam generator replacement. It’s going to have to be done next year,” Yelland said.

Delays with replacing steam generators at Koeberg, together with a high number of breakdowns in Eskom’s coal fleet, is causing a severe problem with South Africa’s energy supply.

Chris Yelland
Chris Yelland, managing director of EE Business Intelligence

“I am amazed at both Eskom and the National Nuclear Regulator,” stated Yelland.

“All of this is a sign of very poor planning, and to be frank, very poor regulation.”

Another point of concern is that Koeberg’s licence expires mid-2024, and Eskom must complete the steam generator replacements (SGRs) before it does.

Yelland explained that if the replacements, along with several other life extension works, are not completed by 2024, the operating licence will come to an end, and the NNR will not issue a new licence until that work has been done.

Eskom explained that it decided to delay the steam generator replacement to avoid impacting electricity supplies during winter — when there are typically higher demands on the country’s power grid.

“This deferral does not impact the safe operation of the Koeberg Nuclear Power Plant or on Eskom’s life extension plan for Koeberg, which requires the replacement of the steam generators on both units,” the state-owned power utility said.

“Based on the condition of the original steam generators on Unit 2, the deferral of the SGR modification does not impact the safe operation of Koeberg Unit 2, as the original steam generators undergo a full series of routine inspections and tests to ensure that their integrity is maintained for the next operating cycle.”

Eskom expects Koeberg Unit 2 to return to service in June 2022. It added that the SGR project for Unit 1 is scheduled to go ahead as planned, starting in September 2022.

Now read: Bad news about load-shedding — Eskom extends stage 2 power cuts

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Eskom’s big Koeberg nuclear power plant problem