More blackouts coming

2014-11-03 00:00

JOHANNESBURG — Load shedding for the rest of this week is in store for South Africa after a coal silo literally tore apart at the Majuba power station on Saturday afternoon.

“That’s if nothing else goes wrong at any of our other power stations,” said Eskom’s group executive for sustainability, Steve Lennon.

He told media at the Megawatt Park headquarters in Johannesburg that it was essential a black-out be avoided “at all costs” but warned any additional incidents would cause immediate load shedding.

Thava Govender, group executive for generation, said Majuba had six units, with the collapsed silo being the focal point where the primary coal conveyor belt met the rest of the plant’s distribution system.

The 40-metre-high coal silo, which fed the power station with 2 250 tons of coal per hour, cracked on Saturday at about 12.30 pm. As staff were being evacuated, the silo imploded at exactly 1.12 pm.

The disaster removed at a stroke 10% of Eskom’s total electricity generation ability for at least two weeks.

Majuba is Eskom’s newest power station which came on line in 2001 to generate 3 200 megawatts of electricity, but this is now down to 600 megawatts from two of the six power generators.

Eskom had over Saturday night and yesterday erected two mobile conveyor belts at the two sub-silos.

For the foreseeable future, Eskom said, 30 trucks an hour will have to dump coal directly onto these belts to feed Majuba and keep four of the six units at the power station temporarily working.

This will cause enormous pressure on the already potholed roads around the station. Eskom had two years ago agreed that trucks would not deliver coal on weekends to limit the damage they cause to the rural roads in Mpumalanga.

Eskom’s head of technology warned that dumping coal onto the emergency conveyer belts will be a very difficult and dangerous operation which will be done under enormous pressure.

He said the rubble at the site showed the silo was badly corroded and this was why two of the silos would not be used until their structures were inspected.

Engineers last night said coal contains sulphur, which speeds up the corrosion of steel reinforcements in concrete, which was why the silos had to be inspected regularly and repaired at the first sign of a small crack.

But the engineers are non-plussed at the suddenness of Saturday’ implosion, as silos are over-engineered and built a lot stronger precisely to be braced against such corrosion.

Eskom CEO Tshediso Matona yesterday told media the last inspection of the silo in September last year found that the concrete structure was in good physical condition.

“On that occasion the risk categorisation was classified as low.”

One civil engineer who works for Eskom speculated the conveyer belt’s large machinery on top of the silo broke and sent the heavy engines plummeting into the 40-metre-high tower.

“This is however speculation. A thorough investigation is needed to get certainty on the cause,” the engineer said.

A coal silo in the coal storage area just outside Majuba was last year declared unsafe because high-pressure air cannons inside the silos had been placed in the wrong spots and had weakened the concrete over the years.

V Thava Govender

“Majuba had six units, with the collapsed silo being the focal point where the primary coal conveyor belt met the rest of the plant’s distribution system.”

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