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.
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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 →
After 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:
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 →
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 →
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.