Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa revealed that he has sleepless nights about the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station’s refurbishment.
Energy expert Hilton Trollip explained that the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station, commissioned in 1984, has been running for 40 years.
“To ensure it is safe, a lot of upgrade work needs to be done, including refurbishing major equipment at the plant,” Trollip said.
Koeberg has two generating units capable of producing 920MW each, roughly equivalent to one stage of load-shedding per generating unit.
Eskom is refurbishing the nuclear power plant to extend its operating life. As part of the project, steam generators in both generating units are set to be replaced.
The project has been dogged by delays, which may result in both nuclear power station units being out of service simultaneously.
Unit 1 has been out of service since January, and its refurbishment was set to be completed by July, with Unit 2 going out in September.
The steam generator replacement on Unit 1 was originally supposed to occur between February and June 2021 and between January and May 2022 on Unit 2. However, the projects were delayed to 2023.
Should both units be offline, it will mean that load-shedding across South Africa will remain elevated into 2024.
Ramokgopa said he is “very, very worried” that the refurbishment is behind schedule and requires urgent attention.
The plan was shut down at the start of the year, but because of Eskom’s mismanagement, the project could not start.
Trollip said Ramokgopa’s concerns about load-shedding are misplaced. “The minister should be worried about mismanagement of the project,” he said.
“Mismanagement is taking Koeberg offline for much longer than needed. There is no argument about it – it is a matter of fact.”
Even more concerning is that if the refurbishment is not done according to exact standards, Koeberg’s license may not be renewed.
Koeberg’s operating licence expires in July 2024, after which it must close unless the plant has been refurbished and relicensed.
The National Nuclear Regulator will determine whether it is safe to extend the life of Koeberg by another 20 years after the refurbishment has been completed or the licence expires.
Trollip is concerned that the electricity minister pressures Eskom management to rush the refurbishment process without following international standards.
He is also worried about a lack of skills at Koeberg to complete the project, especially after the departure of the station manager and former COO Jan Oberholzer.
Another problem is that Eskom has been overly secretive about the Koeberg upgrade from the start.
“The project could cost multiple times more than planned for, and Eskom is not transparent about the costs,” Trollip said.