Safety check-list for Koeberg life extension still incomplete

Eskom’s Koeberg nuclear power station outside Cape Town. (Jay Caboz)

  • The International Atomic Energy Agency recently reviewed the safety aspects of Koeberg’s long term operation.
  • Several findings need to be addressed for a safe long-term operation.
  • Eskom is working to extend the life of Koeberg by another 20 years.

As Eskom plans to extend the life of Koeberg by another 20 years, there are still several issues that must be addressed, an international organisation has found.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which promotes the peaceful use of nuclear energy, in March conducted a peer review of the safety aspects of Koeberg’s long-term operation (or SALTO). It also considered Eskom’s preparedness and programmes for safe operation.

The IAEA reviews the ageing management of several aspects related to mechanical, electrical, civil systems, structures and components, knowledge management, as well as human resources, Eskom said in a statement.

Koeberg is supposed to reach the end of its life by 2024/25, but Eskom is working to extend this by another 20 years. Apart from applying for a licence extension, doing other maintenance work such as the steam generator replacement programme, the power utility is also conducting benchmarking activities with other global utilities. It has also requested assistance from international safety review bodies, including the World Association of Nuclear Operators, the Institute for Nuclear Plant Operators (INPO), and the IAEA.

The IAEA’s recent review of Koeberg is its 50th peer review mission, as many other power stations extending their operations make use of these reviews, Eskom explained.

In its assessment, IAEA noted that Eskom had made progress in addressing ageing management activities and preparing for the safe long term operation since the previous SALTO missions. But there are still some findings to be addressed.

“The SALTO team encourages Eskom and the plant management to address findings made by the SALTO team and to implement all remaining activities for safe LTO,” said Gabor Petofi, a senior nuclear safety officer at the IAEA.

“The IAEA has previously completed two pre-SALTO missions, which prepared the station for the work needed to safely extend Koeberg’s operating life. What was particularly pleasing to note in this 2022 review is the feedback from the IAEA that Koeberg has made significant improvements and have closed the gaps identified during the Pre-SALTO Missions,” said Riedewaan Bakardien, Eskom’s Chief Nuclear Officer.

Bakardien noted that there are some recommendations and suggestions for further work to be done. “… We are treating all of them as urgent to assure that Koeberg will be successful on this journey to extend the plant life by 20 years,” he added.

“There has been significant progress on the LTO, and today we are well set on the path to extending Koeberg’s life,” said Bakardien.

The IAEA also noted good practices at Koeberg that will be shared with the global nuclear industry.

The final mission report will be submitted to the plant management, the National Nuclear Regulator and the SA government within three months.

Eskom said Koeberg management is committed to implementing the recommendations and has requested a follow-up mission by the IAEA during 2024.

Katse Maphoto, chief Director of nuclear safety and technology at the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, said that Eskom’s long term operation project would “benefit a lot” from the IAEA mission recommendations which will ensure that safety at the plant will be on par with global best practice.

The IAEA also noted the professionalism of Koeberg’s staff, Eskom said.

Most recently, a human error at Koeberg nearly resulted in losing 920 MW of capacity, Fin24 reported. Koeberg’s “high safety measures” managed to identify the mistake in time to prevent damage, Eskom spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha previously said.

Eskom is currently carrying out a maintenance programme for Unit 2. It delayed a steam generator replacement programme, as certain facilities were not ready.