Eskom looks set to continue struggling to keep the lights on as it has pushed the deadline for returning Unit 1 at the Koeberg nuclear power station by at least a month-and-a-half amid delays on the life extension project.
This became apparent yesterday when Eskom told Parliament that the current delay to return Koeberg online was around 45 days.
This will likely add pressure on the grid and further elevate the risk of load shedding in the winter months as electricity demand increases in the absence of 920MW generated from Unit 1 Koeberg, an equivalent of one stage of load shedding.
Eskom is already averaging Stage 6 load shedding every week, and implemented Stage 6 indefinitely on Sunday after generation units at three power stations were taken out of service due to breakdowns, while units at six other power stations were delayed in returning to service.
In December 2022, the power utility belatedly took off-line Unit 1 Koeberg for at least six months to replace three steam generators in a bid to extend the life of the power station for an additional 20 years at an estimated cost of R20 billion.
Eskom head of generation Bheki Nxumalo said yesterday that this delay had an impact on the available energy, but it had no direct impact on the Long Term Operation (LTO).
Nxumalo said the alignment of the project within the Koeberg outage organisation and the integration of the project within the station schedule was completed successfully.
However, he said schedule adherence has been challenging due to numerous reasons, including resource utilisation, safety incidents, physical interferences that were not anticipated, the delays in obtaining visas by foreign workers, crane failures, 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 about the technical and regulatory actions required to submit a safety case that justifies the safe operation of the nuclear plant for an additional 20 years until 2044 for Unit 1 and until 2045 for Unit 2.
The three original steam generators on Unit 1 have been safely removed from the reactor building and are being stored in the Original Steam Generator Interim Storage Facility.
The actual radiation measurements taken outside the storage facility are well below the predicted measurements used during the National Nuclear Regulator (NRR) licensing of the building.
The power utility has applied to the NRR to extend the life of the Koeberg nuclear power plant from 40 years to 60 years post its original generation life, which is July 21, 2024.
Eskom chairperson Mpho Makwana told MPs that this was a common phenomenon across the world as developed economies had now declared nuclear as climate-friendly “green energy”.
“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,” Makwana said.
Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe said the decision to extend Koeberg’s life was contained in the government’s 2019 Integrated Resource Plan.
Mantashe also allayed fears about the dangers of nuclear energy, saying the extension of Koeberg was necessary and more nuclear power in the future should not be ruled out.
“The only disaster I remember of nuclear was the Chernobyl disaster. Every other technologies have 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, said he was worried about the estimated cost of the project as Eskom continued to avoid direct questions about how much is being spent on efforts to extend the life of Koeberg.
"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," said Becker.