Koeberg airborne contamination incident

Shortly after midnight on 28 October 2021 some test results became available which found excessive levels of Iodine-131 in the ventilation system at the Koeberg nuclear power station. This was likely a result of a test which had been done in the afternoon, combined with faulty filtration systems that meant the Koeberg Security Central Alarm Station (CAS) had to be evacuated.

While it is reassuring that Eskom were testing this safety system, no standard test procedure includes evacuating all staff from the security nerve centre of a nuclear plant. Clearly there was something significantly wrong.

While Eskom has not released much by way of detail, it is likely to be a result of a combination of three factors.

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Is Koeberg really run under a permit from the IAEA?

On the Cape Talk show ‘Breakfast with Refilwe Moloto’ on 29 October 2021 the issue of the safety of the Koeberg Nuclear Power plant was discussed with guest Mike Rossouw. Rossouw mentioned the International Atomic Energy Agency, and made some statements which are in need of correction. (Cape Talk has subsequently done a follow up which can be heard here.)

On the show Rossouw said that “Eskom is regulated by an International Nuclear Agency”, which is incorrect. The IAEA can only make recommendations to a member country, and member countries are free to implement, or ignore, those recommendations. For example, in 2013 the IAEA made several recommendations concerning South Africa, and while some of these have been implemented, others have simply been ignored for the past eight years.

Consequently, Eskom does not require a ‘permit’ from the IAEA to operate Koeberg, as Rossouw stated on the show. He said “the real risk is that the Agency will recall their permit, in which case they will have to shutdown”.

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