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South Africa’s only operational nuclear power plant, Koeberg, was originally meant to have a lifespan until 2024. Following a recent upgrade, the plant is now expected to operate until around 2044.

Part of the upgrade, the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) has formally handed over the first locally-designed and manufactured safety-critical nuclear component, fully certified, to Eskom for use in the Koeberg plant. Necsa has a Nuclear Manufacturing unit within its Pelindaba Enterprises division.

Nuclear in the spotlight again

The component in question, an air receiver vessel, was specified and designed by a team at Koeberg, while the detailed design and computer modelling was carried out by Necsa. Design and manufacture were monitored by global quality assurance organisation TUV and by the South African National Nuclear Regulator.

Despite the upgrade, however, Hartmut Winkler, Professor of Physics at the University of Johannesburg, argues that Eskom will need to start planning for the decommissioning of the plant soon. This, he says, is not only because of the complexity of decommissioning a nuclear plant, but because of the high costs involved.

“All nuclear power plants accredited by the International Atomic Energy Agency must regularly set aside funds to finance the eventual decommissioning. By 2016, Eskom had paid R10.9-billion into a trust for this purpose. But these provisions seem insufficient and the utility will probably need to raise additional funding to shut down Koeberg,” he wrote in a recent article.

In light of Eskom’s current financial woes, this is not likely to be a priority in the near future. In addition, government is still insisting on pursuing a new nuclear build, which will also require funds – despite ongoing criticism of the need for nuclear power in South Africa.

In a recent paper published by the UCT Graduate School of Business, Rocky Mountain Institute chief scientist Amory Lovins and University of Cape Town (UCT) emeritus professor Anton Eberhard argue that any nuclear new build is a poor choice for South Africa. Titled South Africa’s Electricity Choice, the paper warns that, owing to the inherent complexity of nuclear procurement, financing and construction, no new nuclear-generated electricity could flow for at least a decade, even if procurement were to begin immediately.

According to the paper, the price of nuclear power would be well above that of other generation or demand-reduction options. In addition, Lovins and Eberhard state that there is an added risk that new projects could collapse as a result of corruption, or because nuclear plants could become “unfinanceable”.

“Nuclear cannot compete with energy efficiency and renewable energy by every relevant measure: cost, timeliness, financing, jobs, economic development, environmental and safety risk, independence, security, abundance of eternally free local energy sources, and the social good of ‘energy democracy’,” the paper states.

Image credit: http://www.eskom.co.za/AboutElectricity/VisitorCentres/Pages/Koeberg_Power_Station.aspx

​Koeberg Nuclear Power Station Photo by Bjorn Rudner

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