Minister provides reasons for intention to discharge community representative

Previous posts have described how Minister Mantashe suspended the Board member who was representing communities on the Board of the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR). This suspension had no basis in law, and to avoid an urgent court case set for 8 February 2022, a settlement was reached whereby Mantashe agreed to make a decision on whether or not to discharge the Board member by 15 February. Despite this settlement agreement being made an order of the court, Mantashe failed to do so. However, on 15 February he finally laid out his reasons for intending to discharge the Board member. The full letter is included below.

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Suspension of NNR Board member challenge: settlement reached

Issued by Rodney Anderson, of Save Bantamsklip

Save Bantamsklip | Xplorio Gansbaai

Six months after appointing a Board member to the Board of National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) in order to represent affected communities, Minister Mantashe unlawfully suspended Peter Becker on 18 January 2022. He has been a vocal campaigner against nuclear power in South Africa for about 12 years, and when Mantashe appointed him in June 2021 it was widely welcomed as an enlightened step. According to the NNR Act of 1999, the NNR Board also includes a member from the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE), well known for a very pro-nuclear stance.

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Mantashe ignores demand to lift suspension of Board member

Previous posts have described how the NNR Board member Peter Becker, who was appointed to the NNR Board to represent communities was first excluded from Board processes in early January 2022, then formally suspended by Minister Mantashe on 18 January, as well as the response to the suspension letter. The Minister was subsequently sent the letter below, which demanded that he lift the suspension due to the fact that while he has the power to discharge a Board member, he has no power to suspend.

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Suspension of NNR Board member: Response

Further to our previous post re being excluded from Board meetings, and later receiving a letter from Minister Mantashe suspending him, Peter Becker’s legal representative wrote as below to the Minister.

It has since emerged that on the same day of the letter, 18 January 2022, Eskom received approval from the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) to go ahead with the replacement of the first three steam generators at Koeberg.

It is a peculiar coincidence that based on a legal opinion delivered in early October 2021, the Minister happened to write the suspension letter on the day the NNR approved this major project, which is a key component of Eskom’s plan to extend the life of the ageing plant by twenty years.

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Minister suspends Civil Society representative to NNR

Further to our previous post re being excluded from Board meetings, Peter Becker, the representative of communities potentially affected by decisions of the National Nuclear Regulator, has been formally suspended with immediate effect.

Becker strenuously denies all the allegations of ‘misconduct’ and ‘conflict of interest’ which have been made against him and hopes to challenge this decision and have it reversed.

Meanwhile, the Regulator presses forward with deliberating on what approvals to grant the Koeberg Nuclear plant at a critical time when work is about to start to extend its lifetime by twenty years. This is precisely the time when it would be in the public interest to have someone with Becker’s expertise involved in oversight of NNR processes.

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Eskom statement re Koeberg outage confusing and disingenuous

On 15 January Eskom released a statement saying that Koeberg unit 2 “will on Monday 17 January 2022 be taken offline for a regular refuelling and maintenance outage that is scheduled for five months.”

Setting the disingenuous tone
Firstly it is disingenuous to call this a “regular refuelling” outage. It is about as accurate as saying your car is going to the mechanic for refuelling, and by the way while busy filling the tank they will also replace the gearbox. The vast majority of the cost and the duration of the outage will be to do the refurbishment, so it is more accurate to call this a refurbishment outage.

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Anti-nuclear protest highlights safety concerns at Koeberg

An anti-nuclear demonstration held on Bloubergstrand Beach on 16 December highlighted concerns of Capetonians about the implications of Eskom extending Koeberg’s lifespan next year. The nuclear plant reaches the end of its 40-year lifespan in 2024 but Eskom is trying to extend its operating life by another 20 years before any public consultation.

Demonstrators on beach holding posters
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Koeberg airborne contamination incident

Shortly after midnight on 28 October 2021 some test results became available which found excessive levels of Iodine-131 in the ventilation system at the Koeberg nuclear power station. This was likely a result of a test which had been done in the afternoon, combined with faulty filtration systems that meant the Koeberg Security Central Alarm Station (CAS) had to be evacuated.

While it is reassuring that Eskom were testing this safety system, no standard test procedure includes evacuating all staff from the security nerve centre of a nuclear plant. Clearly there was something significantly wrong.

While Eskom has not released much by way of detail, it is likely to be a result of a combination of three factors.

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Is Koeberg really run under a permit from the IAEA?

On the Cape Talk show ‘Breakfast with Refilwe Moloto’ on 29 October 2021 the issue of the safety of the Koeberg Nuclear Power plant was discussed with guest Mike Rossouw. Rossouw mentioned the International Atomic Energy Agency, and made some statements which are in need of correction. (Cape Talk has subsequently done a follow up which can be heard here.)

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”.

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NERSA conditional nuclear concurrence distracts from Koeberg problems

NERSA conditional concurrence with new nuclear

The National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) has given a conditional concurrence with the section 34 ministerial determination to proceed with procuring a new nuclear plant. This concurrence has some crucial suspensive conditions, in particular 1.3. This makes it clear that given the information put before NERSA, the decision to go ahead with a nuclear build cannot be considered rational.

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