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Fight over Koeberg ensnares energy minister

Gwede Mantashe is being sued by a suspended National Nuclear Regulator board member.
The Koeberg nuclear power station in Cape Town, South Africa. Image: Bloomberg

South African Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe is being sued following the suspension of a National Nuclear Regulator board member who also works with a civil society group fighting against the lifetime extension of the continent’s only power reactors.

The suit filed by Peter Becker, who in addition to serving on the nuclear regulator’s board is a spokesman for the Koeberg Alert Alliance, will be heard by the High Court of Cape Town on Feb. 8, according to public documents seen by Bloomberg. South Africa is legally obliged to appoint a nuclear regulatory board member who represents communities potentially affected by industry decisions.

“It is a constitutional matter,” Mantashe said in a response to a query, without commenting further. The nuclear regulator didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Becker, who was suspended on January 18, argues in the documents that Mantashe didn’t have the legal authority to suspend him from performing his duties on the regulatory board. “The role of a board member representing the interests and concerns of communities is defined by the National Nuclear Regulatory Act” and “while I am suspended, decisions are being taken by the board without that representation,” he wrote in a reply to questions.

The court case highlights the difficulties Eskom is facing in its fight to keep its Koeberg nuclear plant in Cape Town operating until 2044. Mantashe, a former coal mining unionist and chairman of the ruling African National Congress, has emerged as a vocal supporter of the nuclear industry, while drawing criticism from environmental activists.

Read more on Eskom here.

On the same day that Becker was suspended, Eskom received regulatory permission to replace aging equipment at the 1 800 megawatt Koeberg plant. Three days earlier the utility said it was shutting down one of Koeberg’s two units for refueling, while starting a programme to spend about R20 billion on new steam generators as a “precautionary safety measure.”

The nuclear regulator said installation of the steam generators was a ‘business decision’ made by the company. Eskom is expected to submit an application by July for the safety assessment necessary to extend Koeberg’s lifetime, the regulator said in a statement.

Read:
Koeberg life-extension project running late before it even starts
Eskom’s R3bn Ankerlig power station investment to support Koeberg

Becker and Koeberg Alert have opposed Eskom’s plans to extend Koeberg’s operating licence because of the nuclear plant’s proximity to Cape Town, a city of four million people, citing what they say is a potential for earthquakes.

The incident raises issues of governance for civil society groups, according to Liz McDaid, who advises the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse, which investigates corruption.

“Why is this all happening at a time when a decision is being made about whether to extend the life of this reactor?,” she said.

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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R20 billion on new steam generators to extend the life of the plant by 20 years, which translates into a billion Rand a year.

Koeberg delivers an annual 13,668 GW·h at 80.4% capacity according to Wikipedia but is seems almost impossible to establish what Eskom charges clients for an average kilowatt of electricity: the exercise being to establish just how profitable this exercise would be.

Perhaps one of the more informed could comment?

Rough math here:
1 000 000 000 / 13 668 GWh
= R73 163 / GWh
R73 163 / 1000 = R73.16 per MWh
R73.16 / 1000 = R0.073 per kWh

Only 7 cents per kWh is peanuts for keeping the lowest cost most reliable power station online.

Thanks for this … but what about the billion rand a year capex?

The capex won’t be 1B per year like in my rough math, its going to be the full R20B on day one, but it roughly translates to 7 cents extra per kWh for the remaining lifetime of the plant, which is still ridiculously cheap, not to mention carbon free.

Just a little rant I have : The anti-nuclear movement has me very perplexed, in a recent documentary I saw about Germany shutting down nuclear power stations they showcased the celebrations of a group of residents that protested against the building of the plant 35 years ago citing safety concerns as it was shutting down, the irony was : Many of the initial protesters had already long since passed away from other causes and the plant had performed flawlessly for 35 years, I then realized they had a irrational fear because regardless of how safe the plant proved itself to be the residents were unwilling to change their views.

Re your comment on Germany … I watched a BBC interview – HardTalk with Stephen Sackur with James Lovelock who founded the Gaia Earth concept https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaia_hypothesis and when asked what he thought should be the future source of global energy he immediately replied: “Nuclear”. Coming from a passionate proponent of Earth as an integrated whole advocate. Which I do support. But …

What continues to be ignored by the EV movement is that energy cannot be created from nothing – the First Law of Thermodynamics and so all those clean air vehicles (yes, a good thing) are still obtaining energy from pollutant sources like coal and oil.

I too think that nuclear make the best sense if properly designed and managed. Regarding protesters of various ilks, emotions have become the new black in politics and society, not logic and rationality.

End of comments.

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