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Eskom bets R20bn on a second life for Koeberg

Starts installing new steam generators at the plant before approval.
Image: Mike Hutchings, Reuters

Eskom, South Africa’s indebted power utility, started a billion-dollar round of investments in Africa’s oldest and only nuclear power plant before getting permission from safety regulators that the reactor’s lifetime can be extended.

The decision to begin installing new steam generators at the Koeberg plant near Cape Town underscores state-owned Eskom’s confidence that it will win approval to prolong production of low-emissions nuclear power into the middle of the century. The utility’s plan to continue operating the reactors so close to South Africa’s second-biggest city has drawn the ire of groups concerned about safety.

“Although there is still a lot of work to be done, Eskom is confident that it will be successful in its application to operate Koeberg for an extended period, which is why it is investing in these large component replacements,” the company said in a response to questions.

The move to extend the nuclear plant’s lifespan by two decades has being opposed by activists in Cape Town, even as Eskom battles to keep their power flowing across ageing infrastructure. The utility warned last year it could struggle to fill electricity demand, even with the steady output of Koeberg, which accounts for 4% of the country’s generating capacity.

“This makes no economic sense,” said Peter Becker, a representative of Koeberg Alert Alliance, a non-profit organisation that opposes the reactor because of its proximity to Cape Town and concerns about earthquakes. It looks like Eskom is betting South Africa’s National Nuclear Regulator “will have no choice but to grant the life extension license” after the utility sinks more resources into the ageing plant, he said.

Eskom announced last month that the first of six new steam generators produced by France’s Framatome SA had begun arriving. The machines, weighing 380 tons each, are part of its R20 billion plan to keep the 1,800-megawatt plant running beyond 2024.

The utility is expected to formally apply for the extension in January and modifications like the new generators “would be required to support the safety demonstration for long term operation,” said Gino Moonsamy, the spokesman for the regulator, in an emailed response to queries.

“Only after a thorough regulatory review of the Eskom submission, the National Nuclear Regulator will be in a position to either award or deny Eskom the extension,” the company said.

The regulator reports to South Africa’s energy ministry, which has backed the use of nuclear energy as part of nation’s energy mix going forward. A separate safety review of Koeberg, organized by International Atomic Energy Agency regulators, is scheduled for September 2021.

“This is being done at a cost of billions of tax payer rands,” said Francesca de Gasparis. The population of the city where her South African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute works, has almost tripled to 4.6 million people since the nuclear plant was built.

“If Koeberg did not exist and this was a greenfield site, it is SAFCEI’s view that the site should not get the go-ahead due to its proximity to Cape Town, where there is a much higher population density than forty years ago,” Gasparis said.

© 2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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It’s not their money, so they can make big bets.

I get why : have it, extend it. The cost of decommissioning Koeberg is multiples of the cost of extending its life. As in many many multiples.

But:

Koeberg is about 1.6GW export after own consumption. I think it’s uptime is around 7000h or say 11,600GWh

At moment, can do ground mount solar for about $0.4/W with 1600h productivity. Wind (which that part of coast has a lot) is about $1.40/W with about 4000h productivity.

So in equal parts $1.2b would buy1.5GW solar plus 500MW of wind and both have dramatically lower operating and maintenance expense. So call it 4150 GWh.

The solar and the wind would fit into Koeberg’s hazard exclusion zone easily.

Good solution : extend Koeberg and do another R20b of wind and solar. The solar would very easily be used up locally in solar time in the Cape. Solar and wind does not need 1500km transmission and cape has Steenbras to absorb at least some local surplus.

No land lost

So yes, we desperately need the power. But Eskom is again acting like it owes zero accountability to the country. What’s the overall timeline here? The steam generators have begun arriving from France and Eskom talk about applying for approval in Jan 2021.

To get an order such as this actioned to the point of delivery requires a very long lead time, it’s not as if Eskom just needs to pop in to the nearest spare parts store and order a stock item for delivery!!! When did Eskom place the order, how long did the design and approval phase take and who signed off on it?

Whoever was responsible for the order placement and sign off needs their ass kicked and should be fired.

And what’s the bet that the indicate R20 billion for the project becomes at least 3 to 5 times that amount by completion?

End of comments.

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