State-owned power utility Eskom has confirmed that the GM of its Koeberg nuclear power station, Velaphi Ntuli, has been suspended while investigations are ongoing into the performance of the power station.
In the meantime, Eskom chief nuclear officer Riedewaan Bakardien will oversee the operations of the power station.
The utility deemed it pressing to investigate matters at the power station, considering that one of its biggest generating units – with a capacity of 900 MW – has been on an outage since January.
This unit could have assisted in reducing the depth of load-shedding that Eskom has been implementing over the last few weeks.
The unit has been plagued with delays, resulting in significant slippage on the return to service date; however, the unit is planned to return to service during the third week of June.
Eskom assures the public that there are no nuclear safety concerns at Koeberg and that, if needed, the required time will be taken to complete outstanding work-scope before returning the unit to the grid.
In a statement issued by Koeberg Alert Alliance (KAA), the anti-nuclear activist organisation raises its concern about Bakardien not being able to provide full attention to all his responsibilities and questions what aspects of Eskom’s nuclear operations might be neglected.
The organisation says the investigation proves there is a lack of nuclear expertise within Eskom and that there is too much reliance on too few people.
KAA states that, presumably, an underperforming plant manager has also neglected effectively managing things in other areas such as maintenance, repairs and the emergency readiness.
Any problems in these areas may only come to light in the event of a malfunction of one of the nuclear reactors with potentially catastrophic results.
The organisation adds that, when it comes to the next person appointed to the position, the message is clear: keep the plant running or face suspension. This is deeply problematic.
There are times when a minor equipment failure should result in a reactor shutdown even if the probability of it causing an accident are small, according to nuclear safety protocols.
But any new manager will be conflicted between exercising an abundance of caution for the sake of safety, and keeping the plant running for fear of suspension, KAA points out.
On another note, National Union of Mineworkers sees the suspension as a continuous attempt by the COO and group CEO of Eskom to purge black leaders in Eskom, citing poor performance issues.
The union adds that it can not ignore what it believes to be reversal of transformation gains.