The National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) has announced public hearings relating to an Eskom application to licence the Thyspunt site in the Eastern Cape for a new nuclear plant build. The hearings will take place on 25 and 26 August 2021 in St Francis Bay and Jeffreys Bay respectively.
Brief EIA history
Thyspunt lies 80k west of Gqeberha (formally known as Port Elizabeth), in between St. Francis Bay and Oyster Bay. The site was one of three proposed by Eskom for a new nuclear installation in 2008, the others being Duynefontein (next to Koeberg outside Cape Town) and Bantamsklip (near Hermanus in the southern Cape). The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) found that the Thyspunt site was the least risky however in a surprise move the minister for the environment approved the project in 2017, but named Duynefontein for the build. This decision was appealed, and four years later, no decision on that appeal has been made.
Eskom issued a statement on 4 June confirming the suspension of Koeberg’s General Manager for performance-related issues (see below for full text). This is concerning as it raises several questions from a safety perspective.
One man, two jobs Firstly Eskom’s chief nuclear officer, Riedewaan Bakardien (shown here), is now also doing the job of Koeberg plant manager, which means he can’t be giving 100% of his attention to either job. What aspect of these jobs is going to be neglected during this time?
The responsibility of regulating the safety of nuclear installations in South Africa is concentrated in the hands of one man, who appoints not only the members of the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA), but also the CEO of the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) , and its board via an opaque process. The same man has committed in writing to both procuring a new nuclear plant by 2024, and extending the life of Koeberg by 20 years beyond its design lifetime.
Ministerial performance agreements address poor service delivery In 2019, in an attempt to address poor service delivery, President Ramaphosa required each national minister to sign a performance agreement. This was laudable, but in some cases has had unforeseen and negative consequences.
At a Cabinet Meeting held on 21 April 2021, the addition of a civil society representative to the board of the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) was finally announced.
The NNR board has been without a civil society representative since August 2020 flouting compliance with the NNR Act. According to several organisations, this lack of representation has contributed to weakened governance at the NNR whose role is to ensure nuclear safety in South Africa, particularly at Koeberg Nuclear Power Plant (Koeberg).
Appointment is welcomed but overdue The new board member, Koeberg Alert Alliance’s (KAA) spokesperson, Peter Becker, says, “The NNR board has been without a civil society representative for nearly nine months and while this announcement is welcome, it is long overdue. Civil society is an essential part of oversight for government and this is a step towards ensuring the NNR applies the highest international safety standards to nuclear installations in South Africa, and the Koeberg plant in particular.
After 17h00 on Thursday the 1st of April, the eve of the Easter weekend, Eskom’s response to the Nuclear-1 Environmental Authorisation (EA) appeal was released. This response marks the last step before Environment Minister Barbara Creecy makes a final decision on granting Eskom permission to build a new nuclear plant at the Koeberg site, 27kms north of the city of Cape Town.
According to civil organisations, the response document contains misinformation and worryingly shows Eskom pushing for a new nuclear build, overriding the country’s energy plan, the Integrated Resource Plan of 2019 (IRP 2019).
In response to our press release Cracks in Koeberg Safety Claims Eskom released a statement (full text given below) on 12 February 2021. This statement ignores several of the issues we raised, obfuscates others, and provides some further alarming information.
Maintenance and testing is being done … The Eskom statement says “repairs have been implemented” which sounds initially reassuring. However, the report itself describes the repairs in progress at the time as follows:
After a long process described described here Eskom was granted permission by the minister for the environment to build a new 4000 MW nuclear plant at Koeberg. After three years of silence, the process was revived as described here. We appealed for an extension, and finally completed the submission below. Continue reading →
Koeberg is the only nuclear power plant in Africa, and is operated by Eskom under a licence issued by the National Nuclear Regulator. Section 17.2 of this licence specifies that “The licensee must submit for approval a decommissioning plan, as early as possible in the life cycle of the activity or facility. The plan should be revisited and updated as necessary.”
Using the Promotion of Access to Information Act in August 2020 we submitted a request to Eskom for a copy of this plan. In October 2020 they responded with a letter and the document below. Continue reading →
After three years of silence, the Nuclear-1 Environmental Impact Assessment process was revived by an invitation for “supplemental submissions”, as described in Nuclear-1 EIA revived with ‘Supplemental Submissions’. The invitation specified a condition that supplemental submissions may only be made by those who had submitted a formal appeal in 2017. We wrote to the department and objected to this condition as follows: