Koeberg Power Station’s growing shutdown risk — Eskom running out of time

The risk of Eskom’s Koeberg Nuclear Power Station having to shut down is growing, with deadlines approaching for the extension of its operation licence with the National Nuclear Regulator.

During an interview with SABC News, Chris Yelland, managing director at EE Business Intelligence, said a lot could still go wrong regarding bringing its units online, putting the extension of its operation licence at risk.

“The risk is growing that both units could be off simultaneously on the 21st of July,” he said.

However, he noted that while he isn’t predicting a shutdown, more delays will increase the risk of such an occurrence.

“I’m not predicting that there will be a shutdown. I’m just saying that the longer these delays occur, and the more Eskom gets pushed into a corner, the greater the risk,” said Yelland.

“I think the risk is not insignificant at this point because of the fact that there is a lot that could go wrong.”

He said that after maintenance on the units is completed, Eskom must carry out rigorous testing that he hopes will go according to plan.

“Eskom has even acknowledged that there’s a whole series of tests that have to be done,” said Yelland.

“They get done in sequence, and if they experience problems during one test, they have to stop the tests and sort out the problem.”

Eskom has submitted its licence extension application to the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR), with its current licence expiring in July 2024.

The NNR must decide whether it is safe to extend the power station’s life by a further 20 years after the refurbishment is complete.

If it hasn’t been refurbished and relicensed in time, Eskom will be forced to close the power plant. Further delays will significantly increase the risk of this happening.

On Friday, 20 October 2023, Eskom announced that it had replaced Koeberg Unit 1’s steam generators and that it should be synchronised to the grid by the end of October — provided it passed all commissioning tests.

Once synchronised, the unit will start supplying electricity to the national grid.

Chris Yelland, managing director at EE Business Intelligence

The power utility has scheduled the Unit 2 steam generator’s replacement dates so both units aren’t offline simultaneously.

“The three steam generators on Unit 2 are scheduled for replacement in the upcoming Unit 2 outage, which will start once the Unit 1 commissioning is complete,” Eskom said.

Eskom said it had learnt much from the delays it experienced while replacing Unit 1’s steam generators.

“Although this outage start date has been shifted to mid-November 2023, the Koeberg team, together with the main contractor and their sub-contractors, are using the experience gained from the installation on Unit 1 to reduce the outage period required to replace the steam generators on Unit 2,” it said.

Risk of regional blackouts for the Western Cape

Yelland said residents of the Western Cape will likely be hardest hit if Eskom is forced to shut down Koeberg Nuclear Power Station.

“Koeberg is very important, especially for the Western Cape. Without Koeberg, the Western Cape has to import a lot of power from the north of South Africa via transmission lines,” he said.

He said that although it can get power from the north, it becomes more vulnerable in doing so.

“If one of the transmission lines trips out for one reason or another, and it has happened in the past, it can leave the Western Cape in a situation where they have to shed load,” said Yelland.

“The less generation capacity there is in the Western Cape, the more vulnerable the Western Cape is towards a regional blackout.”

However, he applauded the effort of Eskom, its staff, and Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa for their work to improve generation capacity in South Africa.

“From the beginning of this year, there has been a very steady upward increase in the energy availability factor,” said Yelland.

“It is still not where we’d like it to be, far from it. The energy availability factor this year is about the same as it was last year at this time,” he said.

“That’s a big plus because at the beginning of this year, the difference between the 2022 and 2023 energy availability factor was very significant.”

Now read: New Eskom load-shedding schedule – no power cuts until Tuesday evening

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Koeberg Power Station’s growing shutdown risk — Eskom running out of time