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Africa’s sole nuclear plant undergoes revamp to extend lifespan

Koeberg overhaul aims to extend the plant’s life by at least 20 years.

Eskom, the state utility that supplies 95% of South Africa’s power, is overhauling the continent’s sole nuclear plant with the aim of extending its lifespan by at least 20 years.

The revamp of the 1 860-megawatt Koeberg facility comes as Eskom struggles to produce enough electricity to meet demand and is grappling to address construction glitches and cost overruns at two new coal-fired power stations. The nuclear plant is one of the cheapest to operate in the utility’s fleet.

Read: Eskom CEO says ‘days of surprises’ over as power plans in place

Koeberg “has been well-maintained over its 35-year history and hence only a relatively small number of large components require replacement,” Eskom said in an emailed reply to questions. “These replacements have been timed to so they coincide with routine unit shutdowns for refueling and maintenance.”

Located on the Atlantic coast about 27 kilometres north of Cape Town, Koeberg’s first unit was completed in 1984 and the second a year later. The plant would have been decommissioned in 2024, assuming it operated for 40 years.

Eskom said it began planning the overhaul in 2010, has committed the necessary funds and is implementing it in several stages. Water storage tanks used for refuelling one of Koeberg’s units have already been installed, a new reactor vessel cover is being manufactured and the plant’s steam generators are scheduled to be replaced in 2021, it said. The utility didn’t specify how much is it spending.

The Koeberg plant has performed “exceptionally well,” delivering consistent power supply to the grid, and the cost of keeping it going is insignificant, Eskom chief executive officer Phakamani Hadebe said in an interview on Tuesday.

Nuclear plants in other countries with similar designs to Koeberg, which operates pressurised water reactors, have secured approval to operate for 60 years and some are considering applying for a further 20-year extension, according to Eskom.

Former South African President Jacob Zuma favoured adding 9 600 megawatts of atomic power to the national grid. Those plans were scrapped early last year shortly after Zuma relinquished control of the ruling African National Congress to Cyril Ramaphosa, who said the country couldn’t afford the plants.

Considering the problems South Africa would have faced building more new coal-fired power stations or additional nuclear facilities, extending Koeberg’s lifespan makes sense from a cost and timing perspective, said Chris Gadomski, a nuclear industry analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

“Everything in the reactor with the exception of the reactor pressure vessel would be replaced as the lifetime is extended beyond 40 years,” he said.

© 2019 Bloomberg L.P

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