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Both Koeberg units to be offline from July unless NNR approves Eskom’s licence decoupling request in Jan

The Koeberg nuclear power station

The Koeberg nuclear power station

4th December 2023

By: Terence Creamer

Creamer Media Editor

     

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The National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) will decide in January whether to grant Eskom’s request for the Koeberg Unit 1 and Unit 2 licences to be separated to reflect a later commercial operation date for Unit 2 to enable the unit’s continued operation beyond July 2024.

Should the NNR board refuse Eskom’s request for a decoupling, the regulator has confirmed both Koeberg units will be offline simultaneously as from July 21, given Eskom’s announcement that Unit 1 is scheduled to undergo another 200-day outage as from that date for further compulsory maintenance, including an integrated leak test of the containment building.

Unit 2 would face a similar long-term compulsory outage, which is required every ten years, once its stream generators were replaced. This maintenance would need to be completed during 2026.

The current licence limits the operation of both units to July 21, 2024, in line with the 40-year operating life of Unit 1, which began commercial operations on July 21, 1984. However, Eskom has requested a decoupling to reflect an operation limit for Unit 2 in line with its November 9, 1985, commercial operation date.

During 2023, only a single Koeberg unit has been operational at any one time, exacerbating loadshedding during what has already been confirmed as the country’s worst-ever year for power disruptions.

Unit 1 was removed from service on December 10, 2022, for what was initially scheduled as a 180-day extended outage to replace the unit’s three steam generators.

However, the unit was eventually only synchronised to the grid on November 18, with a two-week ramp-up, delaying the Unit 2 steam-generator replacement outage further, from its initial September start date.

The replacement of the six steam generators is a key requirement for securing a Long-Term Operation (LTO) authorisation from the NNR, which would enable each unit to operate for a further 20 years.

In May 2021, Eskom applied for a variation to Koeberg’s NIL-01 licence to be allowed to operate Koeberg beyond July 21, 2024, and also made a request that Unit 1 be authorised to operate to July 21, 2044, and Unit 2 until November 9, 2045.

NNR divisional executive for nuclear power plants Orion Phillips reported during a briefing that a review of Eskom’s request for a separation of the licences had been completed.

The recommendation arising from the review would be presented to a board technical committee on December 11 and the NNR board would consider the outcome of those deliberations at its meeting in late January, after which an announcement of the decision would be made.

To accede to the separation request, the NNR would have to confirm whether systems that are common to both units, including seismic bearings and cables in the containment area, where safe to continue operating.

The NNR was, in parallel, progressing with its assessment of Eskom’s LTO Safety Case, submitted in June 2022.

LTO DECISION BY JULY

Programme manager for nuclear power plants Peter Bester reported that an initial review had been completed but that requests for additional information had been made to Eskom.

These responses would be considered, together with comments arising from the NNR’s public consultation processes, prior to an LTO recommendation being presented to the board for its consideration.

Bester indicated that a recommended record of decision would be presented to the board in March, with a regulatory decision expected in July once the board had completed its deliberations.

The organisation was currently preparing to host public hearings in February, follow an initial public comment period during which 37 representations were received, from which the NNR had extracted 209 comments.

Principal specialist for nuclear power plants Ubert Coetzee confirmed questions were raised about the International Energy Agency’s redacted Safety Aspects of Long-Term Operations, or Salto, report, which highlighted several areas of concern regarding Koeberg.

Concern was also raised about the adequacy of the public consultation process to date, as well as with issues relating to radioactive waste, emergency planning, the role of Koeberg in loadshedding and the state of certain infrastructure at Koeberg.

There were also questions over the cost of the life extension, which Eskom has stated to be R20-billion, but which will likely far exceed that figure, with the utility facing numerous claims from the main contractor, Framatome.

Public hearings have been scheduled for February 3, 10 and 17 in Tableview, Atlantis and Athlone and information about participating in the hearings can be found at https://nnr.co.za/public-information/public-hearing/.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter

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