Koeberg's bolt: French to blame?

By Helen Bamford Time of article published Jun 18, 2006

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The finger of suspicion for the loose bolt that caused the Koeberg nuclear power station debacle is now pointing at French technicians who were there at the time.

The loose bolt damaged Koeberg's Unit 1 generator, leading to the power blackouts that hit the Western Cape earlier this year. The repercussions are still being felt as the province faces further rolling blackouts.

It has now emerged that:

  • French technicians were working at Koeberg in December when the bolt damaged the generator;

  • A similar incident happened in France recently when a loose nut damaged a generator at a nuclear power station; and

  • French technicians have apparently not undergone lie detector tests - unlike Koeberg technicians who were forced to undergo the tests - some even being brought back from overseas for this purpose.

    The shadowy Koeberg "bolt saboteurs" that Alec Erwin vowed to bring to book earlier this year are apparently still at large if the public enterprises minister is to be believed.

    And it turns out that the French had a similar problem at one of their plants - only this time it was a rogue nut that caused all the trouble. Now questions have been raised about their possible involvement in the incident at Cape Town's Koeberg nuclear power station which is French designed.

    Weekend Argus has a copy of an Eskom document outlining what happened at the French nuclear plant earlier this year where an unattached nut was found which led to the generator having to be disassembled.

    Fortunately for the French, the nut didn't cause as much damage as the Koeberg bolt did, but repairs had to be made to the generator during a blackout. In January, Weekend Argus broke the story about how a loose bolt had been bouncing around inside a generator at Koeberg causing a huge amount of damage.

    On the eve of the March 1 local government elections, Erwin announced that sabotage was to blame for the incident and that suspects had been identified and action would be taken against them. Later Erwin put it down to "human instrumentality".

    Erwin's spokesperson Gaynor Kast told Weekend Argus this week that a report had been drawn up but no statement would be made until it went to parliament.

    Staff at Koeberg are now pointing fingers at their French colleagues who they believe may be responsible. French specialists make frequent visits to the Cape Town facility, especially when anything goes wrong.

    A source at Koeberg, who spoke to Weekend Argus on condition of anonymity, said his colleagues were all asking whether it was in fact the French all along who dropped the bolt.

    "They had exactly what we had: a nut that didn't belong in the generator. Who is to say the guys who worked on the French generator weren't the same one who worked on ours?"

    He added that during the investigation to track down the culprit, all South African staff working that day had been forced to undergo lie detector tests.

    "Even some guys who had left the country to take up jobs in the United Kingdom were flown back to take the tests, but no one is saying whether the French contractors working that day had to have them."

    He said that management were tight-lipped when the issue was raised.

    "It's all very well to say sabotage 'this and that' and then blame the South African contractors, but who is to say it wasn't the French?"

    All Kast would say was that the report would go before parliament, probably within the next month. She declined to say whether anyone had been implicated or whether any criminal charges were likely to follow.

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