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Koeberg issues mount: Activists say vastly underestimated refurbishment costs threaten economy

Eskom's Koeberg nuclear power station. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency/ANA

Eskom's Koeberg nuclear power station. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency/ANA

Published Aug 24, 2023


Cape Town - Issues are mounting at Koeberg Nuclear Power Station as the life extension project falls further and further behind schedule.

In 2010, the Eskom Board approved a project to refurbish the plant at a cost of R20 billion to extend the plant’s lifespan by an additional 20 years.

The Koeberg Alert Alliance (KAA) said initially, Eskom announced the refurbishment work would take five months for each of the two units.

KAA spokesperson Lydia Peterson said: “Work began on unit 1 on December 10, and was originally scheduled to be completed in 180 days, with the unit returning to service in June 2023.

“It was then reported in May that the planned completion date would be in August.

“In August, Eskom announced that Unit 1 was scheduled to return to service only in September, which was later changed to November, a full five months later than the initial estimate.”

Peterson said in addition, Eskom said an additional 200-day outage was planned for unit 1 starting in July 2024.

“If Eskom manages to stick to the planned schedule, unlikely as that is, given the history, it would mean over 17 months of work is needed to refurbish one unit.”

Against this backdrop, analysts and activists have questioned the R21bn Eskom has provided for the project and are concerned that massive unreported cost overruns pose a substantial financial risk to Eskom and the Treasury.

CPUT applied economics head Maarten van Doesburgh said the risk of additional financial burden on the Treasury is severe.

“My views are that the Treasury would be under severe pressure to finance any additional costs. This would be catastrophic.”

Energy activist Peter Becker

Energy activist Peter Becker said: “Eskom is keeping us in the dark about what is going on at Koeberg. It is obvious that the estimate of R20bn made in 2010 cannot possibly still be true in 2023, and Eskom has admitted this in a presentation to Parliament.”

He said the Treasury was bailing Eskom out, and it was a concern that the public, and possibly even Treasury, didn’t know where the money was going.

“It’s impossible to tell at this stage if it is even worth continuing with the life extension project at Koeberg, especially given the hundreds of billions of rand the long term outages cost the economy in terms of extra load shedding.”

Yesterday, at the BRICS summit, Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa said the Chinese would assist Eskom with Koeberg.

Ramokgopa spoke as he signed a joint memorandum of co-operation (MoC) with eight Chinese entities, including the China General Nuclear Power Corporation.

Minister in the Presidency for Electricity Dr Kgosientsho Ramokgopa signed a Joint Memorandum of Co-operation (MoC) with Chinese Entities on behalf of the government. Picture: Siyabulela Duda/GCIS

Responding to this move, Becker said if it meant that yet another contractor would be brought in to work on Koeberg, it would drive the total cost even higher.

Becker said it was worth bearing in mind that the NNR did not yet approve the life extension, and as such all the money being spent would have been for nothing.

SA Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (Safcei) executive director Francesca de Gasparis said the organisation had unsuccessfully tried to gain access to information, which it believed should be in the public realm, for over three years.

She said Safcei was concerned about the ongoing secrecy relating to nuclear energy in South Africa.

“Secrecy around nuclear power seems to be a legacy of South Africa’s nuclear arms programme during apartheid.”

On the delays experienced in the refurbishment process, acting chief nuclear officer at Koeberg Keith Featherstone last week described what was going on as a “major service”.

He said Eskom submitted its application to the NNR, along with what is called a “safety case”, requesting permission for the facility to be allowed to operate for another 20 years.

Featherstone said the three steam generators at Unit 1 have been replaced.

“All the mechanical work is completed. Once the unit is synchronised to the grid there is still a lot of testing we need to do.

Only when all those tests are completed will we consider the unit to be commercially available.”

Acting chief nuclear officer at Koeberg, Keith Featherstone. File Picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency

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Cape Argus