The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has completed its review of the Koeberg nuclear power station’s safety aspects of long-term operation (SALTO) to extend its life by 20 years, three months after the replacement of its steam generators was meant to start.
The IAEA found that Koeberg had made progress in preparation for safe long-term operation (LTO) despite many challenges.
“We observed that despite many challenges, the plant has made progress in ageing management activities and preparation for safe LTO since the first pre-SALTO mission in 2015,” senior nuclear safety officer at IAEA, Gabor Petofi, said.
“The SALTO team encourages Eskom and the plant management to address findings made by the SALTO team and to implement all remaining activities for safe LTO.”
Eskom said it was committed to implementing the recommendations and asked IAEA to revisit the plant in 2024.
The installation of the six steam generators at the nuclear power station was meant to begin in January 2022.
Eskom’s chief nuclear operator, Ridewaan Bakardien, explained that the Covid-19 pandemic, which led to travel restrictions and other limitations, made it difficult for Eskom to get required international resources on-site timeously.
The Department of Minerals and Energy (DMRE) invited the IEAE to visit Koeberg as part of Eskom’s preparations to extend the power station’s life.
Its 10-person team of experts said they were impressed by the Koeberg staff’s attitude and professionalism.
“We observed that staff at the plant are professional, open, and receptive to suggestions for improvement,” Petofi said.
“Despite challenges, the plant has eliminated several deviations in ageing management activities and preparation for safe LTO since the pre-SALTO mission in 2019.”
In addition to the IAEA, Eskom has also requested assistance from the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) and the Institute for Nuclear Plant Operators (INPO).
The IAEA will submit the final mission report to Keoberg’s plant management, the National Nuclear Regulator, and the South African government within three months.
The agency previously conducted two pre-SALTO missions, which prepared the station for the work needed to extend Koeberg’s operating life safely.
Bakardien said the latest review found that Koeberg had made significant improvements and closed the gaps identified during these missions.
“We note there are some recommendations and suggestions for further work to be done, and we are treating all of them as urgent to assure that Koeberg will be successful on this journey to extend the plant life by 20 years,” Bakardien stated.
The DMRE’s chief director for nuclear safety and technology, Katse Maphoto, emphasised the importance of extending Koeberg’s life regarding national energy security and grid balance.
“The government remains optimistic that the LTO project will benefit a lot from these IAEA mission recommendations for the power station to achieve the highest level of safety that is on par with the best practices globally,” he said.
During an Eskom media briefing towards the end of 2021, the power utility’s chief operations officer, Jan Oberholzer, explained that a significant risk associated with the life-extension project at Koeberg was a lack of crucial skilled personnel.
Oberholzer said he was “nervous but confident” that Eskom would be able to avoid any major issues thanks to the additional planning it had done.
However, the replacement of the generators was delayed in early March following an inspection by the main project contractor Framatome, which found that the maintenance would take longer than expected.
According to energy expert Chris Yelland, the containment building needed to store radioactive parts before shutting down Koeberg’s Unit 2 had not been completed.
That means the steam generator replacements will now only be conducted in August 2023.