Our Burning Planet

UNIT 4 BLAST

Nine Eskom workers suspended for hydrogen explosion at Medupi power station

From left: A rare glimpse inside part of Medupi's damaged Unit 4. | Medupi power station acting manager Zweli Witbooi surveys operations. | Medupi is an air-cooled power plant, which means instead of giant, steam-spewing cooling towers, dozens of large fans are used. | Workers repair a coal mill which is used to pulverise coal into more readily combustible fuel. (Photos: Ethan van Diemen)

The August 2021 incident ‘seems to indicate procedural non-compliance and management failures’, according to acting manager at Medupi Zweli Witbooi.

Nine employees at Eskom’s Medupi power station have been suspended for procedural non-compliance following an explosion that rocked the plant in August 2021. 

Eight of them were suspended immediately, while a “detailed Major Event Technical” and “Human Error Investigation” led to the ninth being suspended. 

This is according to acting power station manager Zweli Witbooi, who confirmed that “consequence management” actions are expected to conclude at the end of May. 

The blast, Witbooi explained, was the result of mixing air and hydrogen during the purging process. Hydrogen is used as a coolant but can be explosive in certain conditions. 

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“The incident seems to indicate procedural non-compliance and management failures,” Witbooi told journalists touring the facility at a time when the parastatal has had to implement loadshedding at various stages over the past two weeks.

Medupi is the world’s fourth-largest plant of its kind, and one of the world’s newest and most expensive coal-fired power plants.

Read in Daily Maverick: “Medupi: A story of smoke and mirrors, debt and derangement

Tshepo Molabe, recovery manager at the plant, is overseeing bringing Unit 4 back into operation. He told Daily Maverick that while the damage is substantial, it could have been worse. 

At the time, the turbine was rotating at 16 revolutions per minute instead of the normal operating speed of 3,000. An explosion inside the turbine at this speed might have sent deadly shrapnel flying all over.

The incident has serious financial implications. 

It is expected to cost about R2,5-billion, but the final amount will be confirmed once agreements on prices for repairs and replacements are finalised.

Beyond the financial cost, Witbooi said the loss of a generating unit had led to a decrease in energy availability at the plant, adding to Eskom’s capacity constraints and ultimately contributing to load shedding. DM/OBP

 

 

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All Comments 13

  • What’s happened to the other Eskom staff arrested for damaging equipment to earn overtime? Apparently there’s a scheme where workers get kickbacks from the firms replacing parts. Is there rot throughout Eskom?

  • So? They have been suspended, I suspect with full pay as is normal in cadre deployee situations. It is almost a year after the event. Why have they not been fired, criminally charged and their pension funds frozen? A civil case should also by now have been lodged for recouping the loss. R 2.5billion for goodness sake!!!! How much more can the taxpayers be milked for?

    • It takes time, Gerrie, to investigate these complicated events and besides, comrades have to be protected! Of course those NOW supended should have immediately been suspended after the explosion pending this endless investigation – but…it’s not the SA/ANC way! By the time repairs actually commence, the cost will have mushroomed considerably (remember Inkandla – not much has changed since then regarding cooked tenders).

  • At least something is happening. Really hope these sabotage acts and incompetence will lead to some people being purged and maybe giving Eskom a chance to become remotely competent power producer. R2.5 BILLION, and imaginable amount to me, jeez. But lets see I believe the proof is in the pudding.

  • You have to ask why in such an environment with regard safety and cost there were no system controls to prevent the disaster.

  • I expect to continue reacting to articles of this nature where the incompetence of operators has become a comedy of errors. It is clear that after so many years, what management we have in Eskom remains on the backs of elephants – lumbering along and surveying their domain from a lofty height relatively safe from the predators. Only in SA will you come across a situation where the station manager states that the incident ‘seems to indicate procedural non-compliance and management failures’. The joke is that he is the manager responsible! Any manager with a conscience will resign. What happened at Duvha power station – a similar incident.

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