Our Burning Planet


Mantashe boots civil society representative from nuclear regulator just as contentious Koeberg work gets nod

Mantashe boots civil society representative from nuclear regulator just as contentious Koeberg work gets nod
Peter Becker, spokesperson for the Koeberg Alert Alliance, helps to coordinate a protest against the extension of Koeberg Power Station’s operating life at Bloubergstrand Beach on 16 December 2021. (Photo: Tamsin Metelerkamp)

Minister Gwede Mantashe suspended the civil society representative on the board of the National Nuclear Regulator, Peter Becker, on Tuesday – the day the regulator gave Eskom the go-ahead to replace the steam generators for Unit 2 of Koeberg Nuclear Power Station. Members of civil society organisations have questioned the timing of the suspension, amid concerns about Koeberg’s life-extension project.

The civil society representative on the board of the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR), Peter Becker, was recently suspended from his position with “intention to discharge”. In the letter of suspension, signed by Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe on 18 January 2022, it is claimed that the allegations against Becker are serious and that his continued presence on the board may “prejudice its effective and efficient functioning”.

The suspension comes at a key stage in Eskom’s efforts to extend the lifespan of the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station for 20 years beyond its original shutdown date in 2024. Daily Maverick previously reported that Unit 2 had been taken offline on 17 January 2022 for planned maintenance and the replacement of the steam generators and reactor head – processes necessary to the life-extension project. 

At the point the unit went offline, formal approval had not yet been provided for the replacements by the NNR, according to Chris Yelland, energy analyst and managing director at EE Business Intelligence. However, Lewis Phidza, stakeholder management manager at Koeberg, confirmed that the regulator subsequently gave approval for the replacement of the steam generators, on 18 January 2022.

Yelland said in a Twitter post on 18 January: “Rightly or wrongly, this action against Peter Becker at this specific time as Eskom commences a shutdown on Koeberg Unit 2 for major life-extension work gives the impression that the NNR has something to hide, or wanted Becker out the way prior the board authorisation to proceed.”

It would be “remiss” of the Department Mineral Resources and Energy to divulge further information regarding the allegations against Becker at this stage, since the matter is still under consideration, according to the department’s ministerial liaison officer, Natie Shabangu.

Said Becker: “I would love [the allegations] to be released. Once it’s released, I would love to engage with the detail of it… But at the moment, […] I’m bound by confidentiality agreements, and since that is a board document, I’m not at liberty to disclose it.”

In the suspension letter, Mantashe states: “I was informed by the Chairperson of the [NNR] Board that Mr Becker’s conduct prompted the Board to procure a legal opinion to establish whether his conduct poses a conflict with his role and fiduciary duty as a member of the Board. I am in receipt of the opinion dated 6 October 2021 by KT Diong of MacRobert Attorneys. This opinion was shared with Mr Becker on or about 8 October 2021.”

While Becker subsequently made it clear that he disputed the contents of the opinion, no written representation was received by the minister prior to the suspension, said Shabangu.

However, in a letter to Mantashe from Becker’s legal representative, dated 18 January 2022, it is asserted that this is untrue. A legal opinion, constituting a written submission on behalf of Becker, was submitted to the department by his legal representative on 12 January 2022, according to the letter. “We do not regard it as credible that you had not received our legal opinion by the 18th January 2022,” it read.

Wayne Duvenage, CEO of the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA), questioned the timing of the suspension. “There seems to be a legal opinion obtained in October,” he said. “Why only act now in January, at a time that seems very opportune for the board to start pushing through decisions on Koeberg’s life extension?”

When asked about the gap between the receipt of the legal opinion and Becker’s suspension, Shabangu said: “The legal opinion was forwarded to Mr Becker, and the ministry and the department would have had to give Mr Becker an opportunity to submit written representation, before a decision to suspend could be taken.”

Representing civil society

Becker was first announced as the civil society representative on the board of the NNR in April 2021. This came after several civil society organisations, including OUTA, campaigned for a civil society representative to be appointed, as it is a legal requirement for the regulator, according to an OUTA press release from 19 January 2022.

“We were very pleased […] when the Minister appointed [Becker] to the board. For the first time we see genuine, proper civil society representation on this board,” said Duvenage. “So, it was a good move, and then they remove him within six, seven months of his appointment. It’s just without good reasons.”

On the board, Becker serves to represent the interests of communities that may be affected by NNR decision-making. “The idea is that I am in touch with civil society, I collect the concerns of civil society, and I’m in a position to present those concerns at board level,” he said.

Koeberg’s planned life extension has been a point of much contention among civil society members in recent months. In December 2021, a protest was staged by the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI) and the Koeberg Alert Alliance (KAA) questioning the safety of the extension. Becker is KAA’s spokesperson.

Daily Maverick previously reported that Unit 2 at Koeberg had been taken offline on 17 January 2022 for planned maintenance and the replacement of the steam generators and reactor head – processes necessary to the life-extension project. (Photo: Dwayne Senior/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“As from our perspective, the timing [of Becker’s suspension] seems to be coinciding with civil society questions and concerns about the ongoing issues at Koeberg, the lack of transparency on decision-making and the lack of due public participation in major energy planning, which should be happening,” said Francesca de Gasparis, executive director of SAFCEI.

The Mineral Resources Department believes that the NNR board will make decisions “derived from national interest”, said Shabangu about whether the department is concerned by the absence of an active civil society board member during this phase of NNR decision-making. However, he added that this does not mean there is no need for a civil society representative.

“There’s strength in diversity of opinions in any body, and it’s particularly important in an area of such public interest as nuclear safety,” said Becker, adding that the NNR board includes a representative of the department, which is well known for publicly promoting nuclear power as a solution to South Africa’s energy needs. 

Since others on the board have a neutral stance on nuclear power, the balance of opinion becomes “pro-nuclear” without the presence of representatives who do not consider nuclear power a solution to the country’s energy needs, he said.

“My first choice would be a nuclear power-free South Africa. But if that’s not possible, my second choice is to have safe nuclear power in South Africa… and that is where I saw myself being of use within the NNR,” said Becker. DM

Absa OBP

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Coen Gous says:

    It is actually exhausting to read all the time how Mantashe wants to be be, and to a certain degree is, the sole decision making person on energy supply in South Africa. Everything he touches turns to black coal, literally and figuratively

  • Joe Irwin says:

    Mantashe is a liability and needs to be removed from any position where here can cause damage, be it environmental or danger to people’s lives.

  • Fox Bravo.. says:

    We need the Koeberg extension, failing that we will have more blackouts, fewer jobs and more despair in this country. Nuclear is a vital option (together with renewables) to carbon free energy for the planet. Extending the life of nuclear power plants is critical until such time that new (inherently safe) nuclear power plants can be regulated, designed and built (such as molten salt reactors). I’m no fan of Mantashe (and a huge fan of nuclear power). Peter Bekker wearing a shut down Koeberg shirt seems to be cut from the same cloth as Mantashe.

    • Coen Gous says:

      Becker, not Bekker! Unfortunately, you did not seem to have read the very last paragraph, a statement made by mr. Becker! From where I sit, there is a big difference. That said, your comment is credible!

    • Colin Jennings says:

      Agree, Fox Bravo, nuclear is the way to go. I reckon Mr. Elon Musk can send the waste into the outer limits of space and at least we will have “power”. Should there be a leakage only if the Chinese make the reactor, at least we will glow green and we’ll see where we are going!

    • Rod H MacLeod says:

      What rubbish. If you think nuclear is a clean solution, why don’t you investigate the problems that Sweden is experiencing trying to dump its nuclear waste? Have you any idea of the time bomb sitting in Pelindaba in our own country?
      For goodness’ sake – do some reading of intelligent comment by knowledgeable people – nuclear simply defers the waste management problem to future generations.
      It is clear that Mantashe is on Putin’s pay-roll – only the blind and ignorant cannot fathom that.

      • Fox Bravo.. says:

        Nuclear only generates waste not pollution. Think of all the silicon and specialised metals needed for making solar panels and wind turbines. Think about how these panels and wind blades get recycled (some don’t/cant). Nuclear Power has the cleanest and safest power record out of any power source. New age nuclear power will be here in 10 years time, they will mesh and complement renewables. They will be inherently safe and manufactured in factories (no cost overruns). They will not only provide power but also heat for industrial processes (like making ammonia and hydrogen and desalination water). Those countries that adopt this technology will see huge benefits to their population (quality of life is directly related to energy consumption) but also the environment. Power to recycle plastics, metals and to clean up the environment, power to stop cutting down indigenous trees to make charcoal, power for water and sanitisation (instead of pumping sewage into the sea or the vaal river). These power plants also have the ability to burn up the nuclear waste from prior light water reactors. Only the ignorant haven’t done any research into the benefits of nuclear and still believe the sensationalised poor safety record of nuclear power drummed up by the press to sell more. Theres a good youtube video by Ben Heard (Australia) speaking about his paper on Small Nuclear Reactors for Australia. Lots of sensible information there, push your limits read it.

  • Kevin Williams says:

    of course. electricity is a tool for the anc not a necessity for the people of South Africa.

  • Naushad Omar says:

    I have always said the NNR and NERSA ars not independent institutions, but arms of the same government masquerading as independent institutions. The truth is there for everyone to see be it approving electricity price increases or approving the refurbishment of Koeberg. Of course the price of renewables have collapsed making the further refurbishment of Koeberg an exercise in lunacy. But lunacy is actually another name for government policy. Throughout South Africa, everything is done to destroy the country from within. We do not need external enemies. Our enemies is our own government. The proof is in the pudding. Everything is collapsing around us. Malls are burning. Parliament is burning. Woe to Koeberg.

    • Coen Gous says:

      Now THIS is what I call a brilliant comment! A bit of a contrast to the comment made by Fox Bravo, whose article was also just as good. But for a ignorant soul such as me around these matters, I can only applaud them both. They both know something that Mantashe simply does not have the intelligence to grasp, simply sitting on a witch’s broomstick shouting orders that has a profound effect on 60 million South African’s, whilst he had all his houses installed with energy-sourced electronics, courtesy of his corruption partner Bosasa.

    • rodbraude says:

      Here here Naushad!!

  • TherealMalcolm x says:

    On a different note, the Stakeholder Management Manager made some irrelevant comment in this article.
    What is a Stakeholder Management Manager?? Why would a power station even need a person like that? I’m gathering an “important” and crucial capacity generating position like that probably warrants a 7 figure annual salary and is no doubt the reason why our electricity is so expensive and Eskom is heavily in debt.

  • Thinker and Doer says:

    Every single project that the Department implements is suspect or incompetently handled in some respect, it can’t seem to implement a single one in a competent, correct, and effective manner, that complies with legislative, administrative law, and environmental requirements. As a result, the crisis that we face with energy continually worsens. And we are just expected to continually pay dramatic increases in electricity tariffs each year.

  • Craig B says:

    Mantashe loves these old power stations ……. you know how the communists like that aged concrete burnt out look about things

  • Craig B says:

    Mantashe likes to burn stuff. Koeberg must annoy him intensely.

  • Charles Parr says:

    My goodness, where do we find such stupid people of this old relic from a bygone age – something like 200 million years ago. Who ever thought that Cyril would be such a gutless washout as to keep this AH on board, and then let him make decisions.

  • William Stucke says:

    Much as I agree that having a civil society representative on the Board is good, I thank that by nailing his colours to the Shutdown Koeberg activists, Peter Becker has a clear conflict of interest.

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