Civil society responds to reports of Koeberg contract

It was recently widely reported in the media that a US-based engineering company has been awarded a portion of a R20bn contract to extend the life of the Koeberg nuclear power plant. Activists and civil organisations are concerned that the legal processes required to grant a licence for a life extension have not been followed.

Koeberg’s nuclear licence expires in 2024

In order to operate beyond 2024, Eskom needs the approval of the NNR, and a new licence to be issued. This licencing process is described in new regulations published in March 2021, which requires a notice in the government gazette as well as announcements in local newspapers. This would allow the public to make comments for the NNR to take into account before making a decision. However, it appears that this process has not been followed.

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Contract to extend the life of Koeberg nuclear plant already signed?

The KAA has noted recent media reports that claim Jacobs Engineering Group has secured a contract to extend the life of the Koeberg nuclear power plant.

Koeberg is operated by Eskom, under a licence from the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) which expires in July 2024. In order to operate beyond that date, Eskom needs the approval of the NNR for the life extension, and a new licence to be granted. This licencing process requires a public participation process which the NNR is obliged to take into account before making a decision.

The fact that this contract has been announced before the NNR has indicated it has even received the life extension application from Eskom is deeply concerning. The NNR has the mandate to protect the public, but to allow Eskom to ignore due process and make this announcement as if the extension is a ‘done deal’ calls into question the independence of the NNR.

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Thyspunt nuclear hearings distract from Koeberg problems

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

Composite showing documents supporting both Thyspunt and Koeberg sites

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.

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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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Mantashe’s misinformation, then silence, on nuclear

Mantashe presenting the DMRE budget for 2021/22

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. 

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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

Nuclear-1 EIA revived with ‘Supplemental Submission’ period

The Nuclear-1 Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for a large new nuclear plant at the Koeberg site was given the go ahead in 2017, resulting in many appeals against this decision.  After three years of silence, the Department sent out a notice to appellants in July 2020, inviting a supplemental submission.

The EIA was based heavily on the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 2010, which included projections of strong economic growth and vastly increased electricity demand by 2020, and hence the need for nuclear power stations. Recently the IRP 2019 was released, which took into account the actual electricity demand, and so delayed any possible need for new nuclear power to beyond 2030.

Despite the length of time that has passed with the EIA process in limbo, the Department have told us that interested parties may not make submissions now, unless they also submitted a formal appeal in 2017. The deadline for submissions is 3 September 2020, although this may be extended. Continue reading