IAEA visit to Koeberg results in misunderstandings

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) visited the Koeberg Nuclear Power Plant near Cape Town from 22 to 31 March 2022. Both the IAEA and Eskom put out media statements after the visit, which are available on the Eskom and IAEA sites respectively. The statements have resulted in some misunderstanding, which we try to correct below.

Firstly, it is important to bear in mind that the IAEA is an organisation with voluntary membership and has the objective “to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy”, according to its statute. Member states may invite the IAEA to visit a nuclear site to conduct a review and make recommendations, and this visit was done after a request from the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy.

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Nuclear safety concerns sparked by dismissal of community representative

Statement from the South African Faith Communities Environment Institute
Released 4 March 2022

It has now been just over a week since Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe fired Peter Becker (on 25 February) – the community representative on the board of the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR), a position that is required by law – and many communities and civil society organisations are seething. Many feel that this dismissal implies, especially for those communities who live in the surrounding areas of Koeberg and near sites that government has earmarked for nuclear (such as Thyspunt), that their safety and their concerns about nuclear energy will either be silenced or will not effectively be dealt with.

According to Francesca de Gasparis, Executive Director at the Southern African Faith Communities’ Institute (SAFCEI), “This dismissal also sends the wrong message to current and future board members, who may not want to risk their position by speaking out about issues that concern them and those they represent. The role of the community representative on the Board is to represent communities when it comes to developments that could put their wellbeing and livelihoods at risk.”

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Minister Mantashe fires community representative for ‘misconduct’

Minister Mantashe suspended the civil society representative on the Board of the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) on 18 January based on a legal opinion provided to him on 10 October 2021. After a long process of letter writing and providing representations including a clear rebuttal of the allegations made against Peter Becker, the Minister wrote the letter below discharging Becker from the Board.

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No valid reasons for discharge from Board of Nuclear Regulator

After a long process which began in July 2021 Minister Mantashe provided reasons why he intended to fire the civil society representative on the Board of the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) on 16 February 2022. This was the first time the Minister had committed his reasons to paper, and it provided the first opportunity for Peter Becker, the suspended Board member, to respond to the allegations of misconduct that the Minister was making.

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Court order suspended NNR decision making

After Minister Mantashe suspended the civil society representative on the Board of the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR), an urgent court date was set to challenge the legality of this suspension. This appeared to be an open and shut case, and so the Minister through the State Attorney, and the NNR through the firm MacRobert Attorneys, reached out to make a settlement.

As part of the settlement, the Minister agreed to make a decision on whether or not to discharge the community representative, Peter Becker, by 15 February 2022. In the same settlement, the NNR agreed to suspend all decision making and meetings of the Board and subcommittees while the illegal suspension was in effect. This settlement agreement was made an order of the High Court. As it turned out, the Minister did not meet the deadline, and it is not know whether or not the NNR complied with the order.

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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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Response from Eskom to our appeal against the Environmental Authorisation for Koeberg Nuclear site

Title page of response from Eskom to the KAA appeal

Back in 2007, Eskom began an Environmentam fcl Impact Assessment (EIA) for building a large new nuclear power plant on the Koeberg site, about 28km north of Cape Town. Ten years later, after many drafts and submissions, the Department of Environmental Affairs issued an Environmental Authorisation for the project to go ahead. Many organisations appealed this decision, and Eskom was required to respond in detail to the content of each of those appeals, which they have now done (in August 2018).

Many of these responses were combined into one document, which has been widely distributed. However, KAA received the following 115 page specific response. There has not been time to go through it in detail yet, but it is published below to give you all the opportunity to have a look through it and pass it on to others.

Paging through it, a few bits stood out for me.

A tourism plus…
In a show of optimism regarding possible impacts of tourism, Eskom writes “Some nuclear power stations have a positive effect on tourism, as tourists visit specifically to see the stations.”

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World Bank to fund nuclear power in South Africa?

The South African government has been driving its nuclear power plans forward over the last few months.  There have long been concerns, as recently expressed by President Zuma’s Minister of Finance, Malusi Gigaba, that South Africa cannot afford nuclear power.  There has been speculation that the World Bank might be a source of funds to allow the project to go ahead.  However, there are several reasons that make this is extremely unlikely, to say the least. Continue reading

From Russia, with Liability

The minister of Energy signed an agreement with Russia in September 2014. More recently made a ministerial determination to allow Eskom to go ahead with the procurement of nuclear plants for South Africa.  The National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) had concurred with this determination.  I sat in for the final day of the three day high court hearings questioning the legality of these dealings.

Drawing of advocate Oosthuisen arguing before the high court, with advocate Unterhalter and assistant

Advocate Oosthuisen driving home a point

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Nuclear reactors for Thyspunt have been ordered

This is according to the World Nuclear Association, which describes itself as “the only international industry organisation with a global mandate to communicate about nuclear energy”, and has members which include Rosatom, the Russian nuclear power company, as well as Areva of France, KEPCO of Korea, and many others.Ordered reactors from Russia close up Continue reading