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Risk of total shutdown of Eskom’s Koeberg nuclear power station continues to increase

Risk of total shutdown of Eskom’s Koeberg nuclear power station continues to increase
The Koeberg nuclear power station seen from Melkbosstrand beach in Cape Town on 25 November 2020. (Photo: Dwayne Senior / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The risk of both nuclear reactors at Eskom’s Koeberg nuclear power station in Cape Town being shut down simultaneously for life extension continues to increase.

Keith Featherstone, Eskom’s chief nuclear officer, confirmed on 19 October 2023 that there will be a further delay of about 10 days in the return to commercial operation of the 970MW Unit 1 at Koeberg, which is currently undergoing life-extension work.

Eskom has previously extended the expected date for the return to service of Unit 1 several times from the initial indicated completion date of mid-June 2023. The last scheduled date for the return to service of Unit 1 was 3 November 2023.

Unit 1 at Koeberg is now expected to be synchronised to the grid by 30 October 2023, and to return to commercial operation at full output by 13 November 2023, after increasing the output through different power levels and performing the associated commissioning tests.

The shutdown of the 970MW Unit 2 at Koeberg will therefore also be delayed, if necessary, until after the commissioning of Unit 1 is complete, and stable commercial operation is achieved. This is to avoid a situation where both units 1 and 2 are down at the same time.

Unit 2 will be shut down for refuelling, maintenance and replacement of its three steam generators, in a similar operation to that of the 11-month outage of Unit 1 that commenced in mid-December 2022. Eskom hopes the lessons learnt on Unit 1 will result in a shorter outage for Unit 2.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Eskom news

Read more in Daily Maverick: Eskom Intelligence Files

After the return to service on 13 November 2023, Unit 1 is scheduled for a further 200-day shutdown from 21 July 2024, the day Koeberg’s current operating licence expires. 

This would appear to indicate that the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) may not be in a position to grant an extension of the operating licence when it expires. 

Eskom has indicated that even after the nine-month outage of Unit 1 in 2023, it still needs to conduct a series of overpressure tests on the concrete containment building that covers the nuclear reactor. The containment building is an essential safety structure intended to contain nuclear radiation in the event of an accident or meltdown of the nuclear reactor.

It has previously been reported that in the past 40 years of operation, significant cracks have appeared in the concrete of the containment buildings at Koeberg. The buildings now need to be properly overpressure-tested to ensure that radiation cannot leak out in the event of an accident, and that any such cracks and leaks are identified and repaired.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Further delay in life extension of Koeberg nuclear reactor worsens power outlook

In the meantime, Eskom has applied to the NNR for separate expiry dates in the Koeberg licence for units 1 and 2, based on the rationale that Unit 2 was commissioned about 18 months after Unit 1. It is still awaiting a decision.

If the application for the Unit 2 extended expiry date is not granted, then it is possible that both units may have to shut down on 21 July 2024. DM

Chris Yelland is managing director of EE Business Intelligence.

© Copyright 2023 – EE Business Intelligence (Pty) Ltd. All rights reserved. This article may not be published without the written permission of EE Business Intelligence.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Jennifer D says:

    The next epic failure will be a nuclear explosion in Cape Town. How we can even contemplate allowing Eskom and the ANC near an already failing nuclear site is beyond comprehension. Where have they exercised any indication of trustworthiness, dedication or most importantly, expertise. Close it down before there is some disastrous consequence. I would quite honestly prefer no electricity to an Eskom nuclear energy site. Not to mention the fact that the ANC and sidekick EFF hate Cape Town and make every effort to destroy it.

    • Johann Olivier says:

      Your concerns are merited, but there cannot be a nuclear explosion. A meltdown, yes, & explosion caused by superheated gasses or groundwater, but an actual mushroom cloud, no. The reason the concerns are merited is that the explosion might not be nuclear (not a massive blast), but the fall out from said explosion will have far-reaching implications, with widespread contamination and hundreds of years of non-habitations.

    • Ben Harper says:


    • Hari Seldon says:

      No there wont be – the reactor design is totally different to the Chernobyl RBMK reactor and Fukushima was swamped by a Tsunami which wont happen at Koeberg. Koeberg is a French pressurised water reactor design and the safety record is very good actually and inherently fail safe. It cannot “explode”. Nuclear is a wonderful source of clean energy. The problem is the cost. It’s simply so much cheaper to put in wind and solar now with large batteries to balance the grid.

  • Anne Felgate says:

    You can’t make this S….t up!!!
    Is there anything the ANC has managed well?
    Apart from corruption
    If they put as much energy into efficiency as corruption, we would be fine

  • Chris VS says:

    Whatever we do to extend the life of Koeberg, nuclear power will never be risk free, not for now and not for thousands of years during which nuclear waste has to be stored. Without doubt, South Africa is among the countries best suited to generate renewable energy. Liberalising the energy market, stimulating private investment, separating production from distribution and cutting red tape could reduce the risk we are facing because of current energy mix. To identify the stumbling blocks we just need to follow vested interest.

  • Johan Herholdt says:

    Pebblebed technology (homegrown in South Africa) is scalable, risk-free nuclear with safe and easy disposal of “pellets” which we manufacture here at Pelindaba. Which idiots gave the technology away?

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