Concerns over alleged secrecy, cost after one of Koeberg’s ageing nuclear power unit’s trips again
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Cape Town – The Koeberg Alert Alliance is concerned that Eskom had kept the tripping of one of its ageing Koeberg power reactor units ’’secret’’.
Eskom said yesterday its Koeberg’s Unit 1 reactor, which tripped on Monday, should be restarted by the weekend. The reactor tripped after a fault on the electrical breaker to one of the primary coolant pumps.
In March, for example, Eskom announced that load shedding will move to Stage 4 after Koeberg Unit 1 tripped, as it removes 900MW from the network.
’’It is worrying to us that Eskom only released this information two days after it occurred, and only after probing questions from journalists. How long were they intending to keep this problem a secret?’’ said the KAA.
’’It is hard to even believe what Eskom says the extent of the problem is. Was it really just a faulty breaker?
The question is for Eskom to tell us how much it will cost. But Koeberg is ageing and like an old car, needing more repairs. Taxpayers should be able to weigh up decisions made to be paid for with our money.— OUTA (@OUTASA) September 2, 2021
’’There is a culture of secrecy at both Eskom and the National Nuclear Regulator... (To) earn the trust of the public, this needs to be replaced by a culture of transparency,
’’This time, the faulty piece of equipment didn’t cause a major problem. But what else in that plant is getting old and could break soon?’’
Eskom said: “Eskom can confirm that Koeberg unit one reactor tripped at 4.30pm on Monday due to a fault on the electrical breaker to one of the primary coolant pumps. Eskom can confirm that the reactor was then safely shut down by the operators, in compliance with the operating procedure.
“Initial fault-finding ruled out any concerns on the primary pump or the motor itself. There are no nuclear safety concerns.’’
Further assessments needed to be done before the unit could be returned to service, which will be “during the weekend”, it said.
Asked about the impact on power supply and possible rotational power outages, Eskom said there would be no need for load shedding.
"The National Nuclear Regulator does not need to approve the restart, although the regulator is kept informed of the situation, the findings and the actions being taken. Koeberg Unit 1 will be returned to service during the weekend.’’
Construction of Koeberg, situated at Duynefontein, 27km north of Cape Town, began in 1976 and Unit 1 was synchronised to the grid in April 1984, with Unit 2 following in July 1985.
In June, Eskom suspended Koeberg’s general manager, Velaphi Ntuli, over performance-related issues. In January, it had taken Unit 1 offline for planned maintenance after an increasing leak rate was detected, with it returning to service only in June after it had been scheduled for the previous month.
Energy watchdogs had wanted the Koeberg nuclear station to be shut down when it reaches the end of its lifespan in 2024. However, it was extended to 2044 in the 2019 Integrated Resource Plan, South Africa’s long-term energy vision, but this was before three earth tremors in the Western Cape – on September 26 last year, with subsequent tremors a day later and on November 17 – raised further concerns about the plant’s safety.
Earlier this year, Eskom and the National Nuclear Regulator refuted media reports that the reinforced concrete containment buildings at the Koeberg nuclear power plant have suffered extensive corrosion and would not be able to prevent the release of radiation in the event of a severe accident.
Last month, OUTA – who yesterday noted that Koeberg was like an ’’ageing old car’’ that needed constant and costly repairs – said it was ’’very disappointed’’ that the National Energy Regulator (Nersa) electricity subcommittee conditionally indicated approval of the government’s proposal that South Africa should build another 2 500MW of nuclear power stations. The Nersa board has yet to make a final decision.
This decision squarely raises the problems of having an outdated energy policy, said OUTA, which believes this is not affordable, not appropriate and should not be approved.