The KAA has noted recent media reports that claim Jacobs Engineering Group has secured a contract to extend the life of the Koeberg nuclear power plant.
Koeberg is operated by Eskom, under a licence from the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) which expires in July 2024. In order to operate beyond that date, Eskom needs the approval of the NNR for the life extension, and a new licence to be granted. This licencing process requires a public participation process which the NNR is obliged to take into account before making a decision.
The fact that this contract has been announced before the NNR has indicated it has even received the life extension application from Eskom is deeply concerning. The NNR has the mandate to protect the public, but to allow Eskom to ignore due process and make this announcement as if the extension is a ‘done deal’ calls into question the independence of the NNR.
A similar scenario played out with the now infamous Karpowership saga. It was first announced in the media as a done deal, even though the necessary approvals had not been granted.
The imbalance of power between Eskom and the NNR is also a concern. The total annual budget of the NNR is about R270m, whereas for Eskom it is around R200,000m, over 700 times more. The fact that the NNR receives about 75% of its revenue from application and authorisation fees, and the bulk of that is from Eskom, only adds to this concern. Without those fees, the NNR would not even be able to pay staff salaries, as is clear from the published annual financial statements.
There are several questions the NNR should answer urgently:
- Has the life extension licence application for Koeberg already been received by the NNR? If so, why has this been kept secret?
- Does the NNR intend to hold any public participation for the major decision of whether or not it will be safe to continue to operate the Koeberg plant beyond its intended life?
- Has Eskom already been told behind closed doors that the licence application will be granted?
- Does the NNR intend to admonish Eskom for entering into this contract without the required approval from the regulator?
- When it comes to making a decision, will the NNR apply the same rigorous safety requirements as the French (who designed Koeberg) apply to nuclear plants in France?