Nuclear experts and environmental campaigners questioned the safety and maintenance regime at the ageing Koeberg nuclear plant. Picture: Alan Taylor/African News Agency (ANA) Archives
Nuclear experts and environmental campaigners questioned the safety and maintenance regime at the ageing Koeberg nuclear plant. Picture: Alan Taylor/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Experts warn that faulty pump at Koeberg power station is a 'safety issue'

By Mwangi Githahu Time of article published Mar 12, 2020

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Cape Town - Even as Eskom announced on Wednesday evening that the faulty pump at the Koeberg nuclear power station had been repaired and the reactor was running again, nuclear experts and environmental campaigners are nervous about what happened at the plant.

Eskom at the same time said stage 4 load shedding would continue until Friday. The environmental campaigners and energy experts questioned the safety and maintenance regime at the ageing Koeberg nuclear plant.

On Tuesday, Eskom said: “Koeberg Unit 1 was disconnected from the grid due to a fault on the turbine section earlier today. The nuclear reactor remains safe. The seawater circulating water pump was damaged, and it is expected that repairs will take a number of days before the unit can be brought back into operation.”

Melita Steele, GreenPeace Africa’s acting programme director, said: “There is definitely a safety issue related to the damage to Koeberg’s seawater circulating water pump, which should be a concern to all South Africans. Koeberg is an old nuclear power reactor, and although it is not clear exactly what damage occurred there is a chance that significant pressure was also exerted on other parts of the reactor.”

Steele said: “It is important to remain vigilant about any fault at a nuclear power station, and the disconnection of Koeberg for repairs is yet another reminder that nuclear is never safe, nor is it reliable.”

The Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute (Safcei) said in a statement: “Eskom needs to be more realistic about the country’s precarious energy situation and consider whether pushing the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station past its sell-by date is worth risking an energy catastrophe.”

The Koeberg Alert Alliance’s Peter Becker said: “Koeberg was built in the 1980s, which means some of its components are nearly 40 years old. It’s hardly surprising that there are failures. And, like an old car, the problems will only increase as time goes on.”

Earlier in the day, director of the Energy Institute at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Professor Mohamed Kahn, said: “Rule of thumb suggests that the pump or auxiliary backup pumps need to be operational in 24 hours. The longer that takes the more precarious the situation.”

Asked if this sort of situation was common with nuclear reactors, Kahn said: “It all depends on the maintenance regime.”

Director of the Power Futures Lab at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business, Professor Anton Eberhard, said: “Eskom should provide more information. Koeberg is uncomfortably close to Cape Town.”

@MwangiGithahu

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Cape Argus

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