Koeberg comes to the end of its life in the second half of 2024 when Eskom’s licence issued by the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) expires. Eskom has applied to the NNR for a twenty year extension to this licence and were required to prepare a Safety Case which described why such an extension would be safe. Initially, at a Public Safety Information Forum meeting on 31 March 2022, Eskom refused to release the Safety Case publicly but later backtracked and released a redacted version of it with many sections blacked out in January 2023.
As part of the licence application, the NNR started a public consultation process on 8 January 2023 with a deadline for submissions on 16 March 2023. Due to the lack of transparency from Eskom, civil society organisations have rejected this process and demanded the complete suspension of the comment period.
First, some background… The National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) Act of 1999 requires that one Board member is appointed “representing communities”. In 2020 civil society became concerned that this post had been vacant for a while and there seemed to be no attempt by Minister Mantashe to appoint anyone to this position. After receiving nominations for Peter Becker from several civil society organisations and requesting Becker’s CV, the Minister appointed him in June 2021.
In the first Board meeting he attended in July 2021, there was a complaint initiated by Eskom that Becker’s well known anti-nuclear stance was a conflict of interest and it was resolved to get a legal opinion to inform the Board. The opinion was prepared by MacRobert attorneys, and the Chair forwarded this to the Minister on 11 October 2021 without sharing it with the full Board. The Chair also requested that the Minister dismiss Becker by writing in an accompanying letter “since the Minister is the competent authority that is responsible for appointment and removal of NNR board members.” For a summary as well as the full judgment, see below.
In March 2022 a team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) visited Koeberg to report on how ready the plant was to implement Eskom’s plan to extend its life beyond 2024. Eskom wanted to keep this report secret, but due to a request under the Promotion of Access to Information Act, it is now public.
The report lists fourteen safety issues with the planned life extension, or LTO (Long Term Operation), which mostly highlight that given the current conditions at Koeberg, the refurbishment cannot be done on time, nor safely. The full report is included below.
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.
An independent in depth report on the Fukushima nuclear disaster commissioned by the Japanese parliament was released in July 2012, and it comes to some very important conclusions. As Eskom attempts to get approval to build three more nuclear plants along the southern coast, South Africa should be looking very closely at this report to see if there are lessons we should learn from it.