Suspension of Koeberg Plant Manager

Profile photo of Riedewaan Bakardien

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?

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Ministerial agreement contradicts IRP 2019

Too much power

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.

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Nuclear Regulator finally appoints a civil society representative

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.

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Eskom lawyers insist IRP 2019 must be ignored

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).

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Eskom responds to Koeberg cracks

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:Extract from report: neither ideal nor sustainable

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Nuclear-1 Appeal Supplementary Submission

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

Eskom releases Koeberg Decommissioning Strategy

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

Nuclear-1 EIA submission period re-opened

Letter from DEFF EIA supplemental submission extension grantedAfter 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:

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New Long Term Nuclear Regulations?

On 19 June 2020 new Draft Regulations on the Long Term Operation of Nuclear Installations were published by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy for comment, due by 19 August 2020. This is the fourth major nuclear power related activity in government circles since the start of the Covid-19 lockdown (the others were the RFI, the EIA Supplemental submission invitation, and the discussion paper on decommissioning policy).

The exact aim of these new regulations is not clear, giving rise to concerns that they may be aimed at attempting to weaken or bypass the regulations relating to Environmental Impact Assessments.

If they were to be adopted, they would likely be applied to attempting to extend the life of the Koeberg Nuclear Plant, which is due to be shut down in 2024. Continue reading

A National Nuclear Decommissioning Policy?

On 20 July 2020, the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) released a Discussion Paper on National Decommissioning Policy for Nuclear Facilities.

This was a well balanced document which went into some detail, and proposed various decommissioning strategies. It posed 10 questions which covered liability and security for decommissioning costs, strategies, and research needed.

The actual costs of decommissioning the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station, including final disposal of the spent fuel (so far over 1.5 million kilograms),  are unknown. If South Africa had followed the Swedish model with a levy on nuclear power Eskom should have accumulated a fund of about R170bn by now. Instead, Eskom is R450bn in debt. Continue reading