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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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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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

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

Government Officials Continue to Divert Funds to the Nuclear Industry

It has long been suspected that the only motivation behind pushing for nuclear power in South Africa has been corruption via State Capture, coming from then President Jacob Zuma. Details of this are emerging at the Zondo commission into State Capture where it has been testified that a Minister of Finance was fired specifically because he would not ignore the realities of the cost of nuclear power, and so refused tos sign off on the nuclear deal.

Despite this, and despite Zuma being removed from office, there are disturbing signs that there are still those in positions of power who are pushing for taxpayers’ money to be given to the nuclear industry.

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