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Koeberg shutdown heralds higher stage load shedding in the country

Anti nuclear activists have expressed concern that Eskom will cut corners on its R49 billion maintenance programme to extend the life of the Koeberg nuclear power station by some 20 years. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Anti nuclear activists have expressed concern that Eskom will cut corners on its R49 billion maintenance programme to extend the life of the Koeberg nuclear power station by some 20 years. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jan 17, 2022

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ANTI NUCLEAR activists have expressed concern that Eskom will cut corners on its R49 billion maintenance programme to extend the life of the Koeberg nuclear power station by some 20 years.

Eskom confirmed that after more than 450 days of uninterrupted operation, Unit 2 of the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station will today be taken offline for a regular refuelling and maintenance outage, that is scheduled to last for five months. This will be the 25th refuelling outage on Unit 2 since commissioning and will also see the replacement of the unit's three steam generators.

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The reactor pressure vessel head, which houses the nuclear fuel while the station is in operation, will also be replaced. “There are several components that Eskom has confirmed it will not work on. The nuclear condensers are among those.

“In 2010 the budget to extend the life of Koeberg was R20bn, with inflation and the exchange rate as well as added costs it is about R49bn. There are concerns about the safety of the nuclear plant if things are not done by the book,” Peter Becker of the Koeberg Alert Alliance told Business Report.

Eskom said over the weekend the Koeberg Unit 1 outage, of a similar duration, will follow later in the year, during which the Unit 1 steam generators will also be replaced – its reactor pressure vessel head had been replaced several years ago.

Eskom said on Saturday the Koeberg units, at 920MW each, were the largest generating units on the continent and that the outages were planned at times of the year when the impact on the overall electricity supply was minimised as far as possible.

“This is going to be a long, but needed outage – the first of its kind for Koeberg. Our staff are prepared and committed to make history by ensuring success of this project,” said Riedewaan Bakardien, Eskom's Chief Nuclear Officer.

“Nuclear safety is the paramount factor. We will progress the outage work diligently, making sure nuclear safety and safety of plant, personnel and public is top of mind,” he said. Experts said Koeberg off-line had raised the spectre of intensive load shedding, particularly over the winter months.

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Eskom said Koeberg was an important part of the Eskom generating fleet due to its reliable operation, low primary energy costs, its strategic location in the Western Cape to stabilise the national electricity grid and the fact that it is a clean source of energy.

Nuclear physicist Dr Kelvin Kemm confirmed that Koeberg was long overdue for service, and that the work was extensive. Becker said the rehabilitation work, starting with Unit 2 today, would take up to June, with a three-month recalibration process to September, before Unit 1 would be taken off grid until the early parts of 2023.

Unlike other types of power stations, where fuel can be added to continue generating power, the fuel at a nuclear power station is sealed inside a reactor vessel, which is opened for refuelling every 15 to 18 months.

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Experts said this was also a time when the station would perform certain required inspections on equipment and perform more intrusive maintenance that cannot be performed when the unit is online.

“When Koeberg Unit 2 shuts down, it will have been online, safely generating electricity, for 452 days without any interruption since its last refuelling outage, which was completed in October 2020.“

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