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More clarity needed on Koeberg’s clean bill of health from IAEA inspectors

THE Koeberg Nuclear plant reaches the end of its design life in July 2024, but Eskom wants to keep operating it for an extra 20 years. File photo.

THE Koeberg Nuclear plant reaches the end of its design life in July 2024, but Eskom wants to keep operating it for an extra 20 years. File photo.

Published Apr 6, 2022

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THE Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) yesterday announced a clean bill of health for Eskom's Koeberg Nuclear Plant for the next 20 years, subject to unpublicised recommendations, which had the anti-nuclear movement screaming for the "devil in the detail".

The Koeberg Nuclear plant comes to the end of its design life in July 2024, but Eskom wants to keep operating it for an extra 20 years.

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The positive report comes just two weeks after Eskom was forced to dispel speculation that an incident during scheduled maintenance of Koeberg Nuclear Reactor Unit 2 could have led to a major disaster.

The IAEA peer review mission, with experts from eight countries, which undertook an assessment of the Koeberg Plant in late March, said yesterday that it had observed that despite many challenges, the plant had made progress in ageing management activities and preparation for safe Long-Term Operation (LTO) since the first Pre-Salto (Safety Aspects of Long-Term Operation) mission in 2015.

“The Salto team encourages Eskom and the plant management to address findings made by the Salto team and to implement all remaining activities for safe LTO,” said Gabor Petofi, a senior nuclear safety officer at the IAEA, in a statement issued by Eskom yesterday.

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The IAEA team of nuclear professionals comprising nuclear experts from Argentina, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Pakistan, Spain, Sweden and two IAEA staff members reviewed the safety aspects of Koeberg’s Long-Term Operation (LTO) to extend the life of the power station by 20 years, including preparedness, organisation and programmes for safe operation.

Riedewaan Bakardien, Eskom's chief nuclear officer, said the entity appreciated the IAEA's support in plant ageing management and preparation for safe LTO.

"The recommendations were largely already part of our plans and, therefore, can be implemented within the existing budget. We believe they can all be implemented in the available time for Koeberg's life extension," he said.

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The final mission report will be submitted to the plant management, the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) and the government of South Africa within three months.

Katse Maphoto, the chief director: nuclear safety and technology of the Department of Minerals and Energy, said: “The government remains optimistic that the LTO project will benefit a lot from this IAEA mission recommendations for the power station to achieve the highest level of safety, that is on par with the best practices globally.”

Peter Becker, a spokesperson for the Koeberg Alert Alliance, said Eskom had watered down the report, pointing out a statement from the IAEA website citing amongst recommendations "ensuring full functionality of the containment structure monitoring system".

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"There is a misconception that the IAEA approves of Koeberg, that it gives licence and endorsement to it. They can only recommend, and then South Africa as a sovereign country decides what to do. But their saying Koeberg needs to ensure full functionality means there is something we are not being told about. Obviously they are very polite, they have been invited here, they are our guests, they have to put things delicately, but what they found was non-functional," Becker said.

Becker said Eskom needed to make the IAEA report public to review the true extent of issues at the nuclear plant.

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