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.
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.
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”.
All eyes were on Minister Gwede Mantashe today to see what he had to say about nuclear power issues as he presented the budget for his Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE). In a surprising move, he did not mention the subject.
However, last week on 12 May addressing the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), Mantashe responded to questions about the Koeberg nuclear power plant. According to academics, activists and organisations, Mantashe’s answers contained disinformation that implied that Koeberg’s 20-year life extension is approved, and that the cost of the electricity it produces is a fraction of what it actually is.
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.
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:
A recently released Eskom document revealed that 40 years of exposure to sea air at Koeberg Nuclear Power Station has damaged the concrete of the containment buildings. At one stage the concrete containment dome was found to have cracked around the entire 110 meter circumference.
“The containment buildings are the outer shells of the reactor buildings, built as pressure vessels to withstand the pressure if the reactors inside them ever malfunction and therefore prevent harmful radiation being leaked into the environment,” says DR, a member of Koeberg Alert Alliance (KAA) and a retired analytical chemist.