Eskom appears to be straining to keep the lights on after delaying the restoration of Unit 1 at the Koeberg nuclear power station by at least a month and a half due to delays in the life extension project.
This was made clear yesterday when Eskom informed Parliament that the current timetable for bringing Koeberg back online was 45 days.
This will likely put additional strain on the grid and increase the possibility of load shedding during the winter months as power demand rises in the absence of 920MW generated by Unit 1 Koeberg, which is equivalent to one stage of load shedding.
Nxumalo stated that the project was successfully aligned within the Koeberg outage organisation and integrated into the station schedule.
However, he stated that timetable adherence has been difficult due to a variety of factors, including resource utilisation, safety issues, unexpected physical interferences, delays in acquiring visas by foreign employees, crane problems, and other challenges.
“The 45-day delay is only referring to the current outage. It doesn’t have the impact on the LTO extension,” Nxumalo said.
“The impact is only currently because it means the unit is not going to be available to deliver power for the additional 45 days, but in terms of the life extension it doesn’t have any impact.”
Eskom was briefing the portfolio committee on energy on the technical and regulatory steps needed to submit a safety case that justifies the safe operation of the nuclear facility for another 20 years, until 2044 for Unit 1 and 2045 for Unit 2.
Unit 1’s three original steam generators have been securely removed from the reactor building and are being kept at the Original Steam Generator Interim Storage Facility.
The actual radiation measurements collected outside the storage facility are significantly lower than the projected levels utilised during the building’s National Nuclear Regulator (NRR) licencing.
The power provider has requested that the NRR prolong the life of the Koeberg nuclear power plant from 40 to 60 years after its original generation life, which expires on July 21, 2024.
Mpho Makwana, Eskom’s chairperson, told MPs that this was a global phenomenon, as industrialised economies had now deemed nuclear to be climate-friendly “green energy.”
Makwana said, “The general trend all over the world, even in the US, we see nuclear plants being extended up to 60 years in some instances, largely due to (the belief) that well-maintained and well-managed nuclear is a safe and reliable source of energy that gives you energy, that has a low carbon footprint and low emissions than our traditional fleet in the coal space.”
Gwede Mantashe, Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, stated that the decision to extend Koeberg’s life was included in the government’s 2019 Integrated Resource Plan.
Mantashe also allayed concerns about the dangers of nuclear energy, saying that the extension of Koeberg was important and that more nuclear power should not be ruled out in the future.
“The only disaster I remember of nuclear was the Chernobyl disaster. Every other technology has had a number of disasters. So, I don’t think we should deal with nuclear out of fear,” Mantashe said.
Peter Becker, an energy activist and member of the Koeberg Alert Alliance, expressed concern about the project’s estimated cost as Eskom continues to avoid asking inquiries about how much money is being spent on measures to extend Koeberg’s life.
Becker said, “It was estimated to be R20bn in 2010 rands, and so must have at least doubled by now, purely from inflation. And yet as recently as last year, Eskom answered a parliamentary question by saying the cost will be R21bn.
“That is clearly a lie, and during this meeting, they failed to answer a direct question about the most recent cost estimate. I estimate that at an absolute minimum, this cost has already escalated to R40bn.
“Without knowing the cost of all the maintenance and capital expenditure necessary to keep the plant running, it is impossible to work out what the cost of electricity from Koeberg will be. It may turn out to be the most expensive generation source in the country.”