Eskom misses major deadline at Koeberg nuclear power station

Eskom has missed its own deadline for bringing Koeberg unit 2 online, the Sunday newspaper Rapport reported.

This lack of generating capacity and an unprotected strike at several of its power stations forced Eskom to escalate load-shedding to Stage 4 on Friday, 24 June 2022.

The state-owned power utility announced it would take Koeberg unit 2 offline in mid-January 2022, saying it would take five months to refuel and conduct maintenance.

It was expected back on the grid in mid-June, but Eskom has missed this deadline.

The unit was meant to undergo a significant modification during its downtime — replacing its three heat exchanges with new ones.

However, when the contractors, Framatome, arrived on-site to do the replacement, they were horrified to find that Koeberg’s containment building had not yet been built. Eskom had 12 years to make it.

As a result, the modifications were cancelled until a later date, and the outage would only be used to replenish the unit’s nuclear fuel.

Koeberg is South Africa’s only nuclear power station and contributes significant amounts of electricity to the grid, with each generator producing 921MW.

The lack of power from Koeberg’s Unit 2 generator significantly impacts electricity availability in the country.

To make matters worse, a relatively large proportion of Eskom’s power station staff downed tools on 23 June to protest a deadlock in wage discussions between the labour unions and the utility.

The employees blocked roads and access gates to several power stations across the country, intimidating non-striking employees to not go to work and inhibiting the free flow of commodities required for electricity generation.

The strike has been deemed unprotected and illegal, and Eskom COO Jan Oberholzer warned that the utility might have to implement higher stages of load-shedding if the protests continue.

André de Ruyter, Eskom CEO

This isn’t the first time Eskom has missed an important deadline. In January 2020, shortly after taking the reigns at the beleaguered power utility, André de Ruyter promised to end load-shedding by the winter of 2021.

The Eskom CEO said they would focus on reliability maintenance.

He warned this would increase load-shedding in the short-term but promised it would let them end load-shedding for good.

“We think that there will be a period up until the winter of 2021 before we’ve broken the back of this maintenance backlog, and we are able to truly again become a reliable predictable supplier of electricity,” De Ruyer said.

“In the past, we neglected to perform scheduled maintenance as required, and those legacies are coming home and are causing us to have unreliable equipment.”

“This will cause us to have an increased probability of load-shedding over the medium-term as we fix the system,” he added.

However, data from the Council for Industrial and Scientific Research (CSIR) revealed that load-shedding has only gotten worse since De Ruyter’s promise, with 2021 being South Africa’s worst year for load-shedding yet.

De Ruyter acknowledged criticisms for failing to meet the September 2021 deadline, saying that much of the planned maintenance was not up to par.

There were also instances where they began maintenance on a power plant only to discover things were much worse than anticipated, resulting in generating units being offline for longer than planned.

De Ruyter said that Eskom has also been unable to conduct all of the maintenance it wanted.

To resolve this issue once and for all and end load-shedding, Eskom has said it needs 4,000 to 6,000MW of additional generating capacity.

Until the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy procures this headroom, Eskom says it can’t perform the necessary maintenance on its ageing coal power plants.

Now read: Eskom increases power cuts to Stage 4

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Eskom misses major deadline at Koeberg nuclear power station