Koeberg comes to the end of its life in the second half of 2024 when Eskom’s licence issued by the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) expires. Eskom has applied to the NNR for a twenty year extension to this licence and were required to prepare a Safety Case which described why such an extension would be safe. Initially, at a Public Safety Information Forum meeting on 31 March 2022, Eskom refused to release the Safety Case publicly but later backtracked and released a redacted version of it with many sections blacked out in January 2023.
As part of the licence application, the NNR started a public consultation process on 8 January 2023 with a deadline for submissions on 16 March 2023. Due to the lack of transparency from Eskom, civil society organisations have rejected this process and demanded the complete suspension of the comment period.
On 27 February 2023 the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs gazetted the national state of disaster regulations related to South Africa’s energy crisis.
When the government first announced that it intended to declare a state of disaster, many experts and organisations stated that it was not necessary and a relaxed legislative environment would erode democratic governance. Inaction by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) caused the high levels of load shedding. Declaring a state of disaster was just an attempt to deflect blame.
This declaration of a state of disaster to “cut through the red tape” also allows the state to bypass important regulations and processes which is a major concern.
First, some background… The National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) Act of 1999 requires that one Board member is appointed “representing communities”. In 2020 civil society became concerned that this post had been vacant for a while and there seemed to be no attempt by Minister Mantashe to appoint anyone to this position. After receiving nominations for Peter Becker from several civil society organisations and requesting Becker’s CV, the Minister appointed him in June 2021.
In the first Board meeting he attended in July 2021, there was a complaint initiated by Eskom that Becker’s well known anti-nuclear stance was a conflict of interest and it was resolved to get a legal opinion to inform the Board. The opinion was prepared by MacRobert attorneys, and the Chair forwarded this to the Minister on 11 October 2021 without sharing it with the full Board. The Chair also requested that the Minister dismiss Becker by writing in an accompanying letter “since the Minister is the competent authority that is responsible for appointment and removal of NNR board members.” For a summary as well as the full judgment, see below.
The matter concerning Minister Mantashe dismissing Peter Becker from the Board of the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) will be heard in the Western Cape High Court on 9 November 2022. Becker is asking that the decision to dismiss him is reviewed and set aside.
In March 2022 a team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) visited Koeberg to report on how ready the plant was to implement Eskom’s plan to extend its life beyond 2024. Eskom wanted to keep this report secret, but due to a request under the Promotion of Access to Information Act, it is now public.
The report lists fourteen safety issues with the planned life extension, or LTO (Long Term Operation), which mostly highlight that given the current conditions at Koeberg, the refurbishment cannot be done on time, nor safely. The full report is included below.
The affidavit expresses the view that the function of NNR Board members is to ““Loyally execute the policies of the government of the day” which includes the life extension of Koeberg. The Minister characterises resistance to this plan as “political opposition”, misconduct, and a justified basis for dismissal.
Below is the text of the Answering Affidavit from Minister Mantashe, which is now in the public court record.
In April 2021 Peter Becker launched a high court application to review the decision by Minister Mantashe to dismiss him from the Board of the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR). Previous posts included the Founding Affidavit and the Supplementary Founding Affidavit. After requesting and being granted a three week extension to the deadline, the Chair of the NNR Board, as the second respondent, and the NNR itself as the third, supplied their combined answering affidavit on 1 August 2022. This is the only opportunity for them to present evidence to the court.
Below is the text of the combined Answering Affidavit from the NNR Board Chair, which is now in the public court record:
The Koeberg nuclear plant is the only nuclear power plant in Africa. Construction began in the 1970s and the plant came online in 1984. It operates under a licence from the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) which expires in July 2024. In 2010 the Eskom Board approved spending R20bn on refurbishing Koeberg to extend its life by 20 years, provided that it received approval from the NNR. That approval has not as yet been given to Eskom by the NNR.
Currently Koeberg provides 3.5% of national nominal generating capacity, although over the past few years it has been plagued by problems. For most of 2022, unit 2 has been offline and the plant has run at half of its nominal capacity.
A declaration of an ‘energy emergency’ has been touted as a necessary step to “cut through the red tape” and address the electricity crisis. But what exactly does this mean? Which regulations or processes will be bypassed?
When it comes to the Koeberg nuclear plant, one upcoming regulatory requirement and a concern for those advocating for a life extension is getting approval from the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR). The current operating licence expires in July 2024, and without the NNR granting a life extension, this is when the plant will have to be permanently shut down.