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”.
Cape Talk listeners were misled
The combination of the above two misunderstandings led Rossouw to provide the assurance to Cape Talk listeners that Koeberg was being kept safe by an international body. Given the facts, this subject should perhaps be revisited.
When it comes to risks, there are two worth mentioning.
The first is the obvious one. After a botched procedure resulted in one of the Medupi generators exploding, a fire at the Kendal station, plus a host of other breakdowns which have led to about 50% of Eskom generating capacity being offline, could a major accident at Koeberg be coming soon? Of course, there are dedicated professional people working hard to keep the plant safe, but 200 have apparently left recently, so is it really impossible that something goes seriously wrong? The plant has been running next to the sea for 35 years and who knows whether safety features have corroded or been damaged over that time.
The recent announcement from Eskom about a radiation leak at Koeberg on 28 October 2021 only adds to these concerns. What will it take for Eskom to realise this plant is becoming less and less safe with each passing year?
You think you are insured?
Many residents and business owners do not realise that their insurance policies exclude any damage or loss of value from an accident at Koeberg. Even if their premises become unusable, any mortgage payments will still be due to the bank, while the insurance companies will not pay out.
What is the cost of unnecessary loadshedding?
The second risk is unnecessary loadshedding and the impact on the economy. The Koeberg plant comes to the end of its life in 2024, but Eskom have announced plans to extend that by twenty years which requires major refurbishment work that will need to be done starting in 2022. That would require the reactors to be shutdown for extended periods in 2022 and 2023 which will worsen loadshedding at a critical time.
It is over the next two years that Eskom needs to catch up on the maintenance of its fleet. Once the Eskom fleet is again fully functional, it is important to note that Koeberg will provide at most 3.5% of national nominal capacity. After 2024, when the Eskom fleet maintenance should be complete and also additional new renewable and storage capacity will be coming online, Koeberg going offline will not be missed.
‘Horrifying’ exodus from Koeberg…
An additional concern is the recent statement by Eskom’s COO Jan Oberholzer about the ‘absolutely horrifying’ exodus of expertise from Koeberg. If that is happening now, is it possible to guarantee that there will be enough expertise to run the plant safely up to 2044, and to decommission it thereafter?
The only way to make Koeberg 100% safe
Shutting the plant down in 2024 as planned will not only reduce the negative impact on loadshedding, but is also the only way to make Capetonians 100% safe from a nuclear disaster.