No seamless extension

15th December 2023 By: Terence Creamer - Creamer Media Editor

No seamless extension

The Koeberg saga, much like South Africa’s ongoing efforts to tackle loadshedding decisively, hardly ever fails to disappoint.

Having missed deadline after deadline, Africa’s only nuclear power plant is now cutting it extremely fine in taking the steps necessary to secure a Long-Term Operation (LTO) authorisation, which will enable its two pressurised water reactors to continue for a further 20 years beyond their original 40-year design life.

In fact, it is already too late for a seamless extension, as the delays mean that only a single unit will continue to be available, as has been the case for the whole of 2023, in any one year for at least another year, but probably two.

Should the LTO be secured, both units, starting with Unit 1 in July, will need to undergo what is expected to be a 200-day outage to perform works in line with a compulsory ten-year maintenance requirement, which includes an integrated leak test of the containment building.

There is even potential that both units will be shut on July 21 if the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) does not approve a separation of the Unit 1 and Unit 2 licences.

As things stand, the Unit 2 licence will also expire in July along with Unit 1’s, unless the NNR grants a decoupling that recognises that Unit 2 entered commercial operation on November 9, 1985, more than a year after Unit 1, which did so on July 21, 1984.

The NNR has completed a review of Eskom’s request for a separation of the licences and the NNR board will make a final determination in late January. To accede to the separation request, the NNR will need to be satisfied that the systems that are common to both units, including seismic bearings and cables in the containment area, are safe for continued operation.

Thereafter, the regulator will apply its mind primarily to the LTO Safety Case and the public comments arising from both written submissions and public hearings, which are scheduled for February, before deciding whether both reactors are in a fit state to continue for another 20 years.

Given the backdrop of a supply deficit, the continuation of Koeberg seems rational at face value.

However, the delays and the poor management of the life- extension project raise serious questions about whether Eskom should have indeed persisted, particularly when it became clear that the direct cost of the delays would be dwarfed by the economic costs associated with the higher stages of loadshedding precipitated by having only one unit available for years on end.

Eskom authorised the life extension in 2010 and set a R20-billion budget for the project, including the replacement of the six steam generators across the two units. The final direct cost is not yet known but is likely to far exceed the initial budget once all contractor claims are eventually settled.

The indirect costs are becoming clearer by the day, as loadshedding kicks lumps out of the economy, stifles investment, and destroys jobs.