Eskom suspends Koeberg general manager over 'performance issues'

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

Eskom has suspended Koeberg Nuclear Power Station general manager Velaphi Ntuli over performance-related issues, spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha confirmed to Fin24 on Friday.

"He has been suspended for performance issues on that power station, and in accordance with Eskom's policies Mr Ntuli will be charged for non-performance and in that process will get an opportunity to respond and be heard, in an objective process," Mantshantsha said.

Fin24 understands that chief nuclear officer Riedewaan Bakardien will take on the role as the power station manager, until the matter is resolved.

Eskom in January took Unit 1 of Koeberg offline for planned maintenance earlier than scheduled after an increasing leak rate was detected at one of its steam generators, during routine maintenance. It was due to return to service in May 2021.

But the unit has not returned to service as scheduled, Mantshantsha told Fin24.

"One of Eskom’s biggest generating units with a capacity of 900 MW; Koeberg Unit 1 has been on an outage since January 2021, and could have assisted in reducing the depth of load shedding had the unit been brought back on time as originally planned," Eskom said in a statement.

"Eskom confirms that there are no nuclear safety concerns at Koeberg, and if needed the required time will be taken to complete all the outstanding work-scope before returning Unit 1 to the grid. Eskom leadership has been concerned with outage performance at Koeberg nuclear power plant, and the recent outage on Unit 1 has again been plagued with delays resulting in significant slippage on the return to service date."

The unit should return to service during the third week of June. 

The 45-year-old Ntuli, an electrical engineering graduate from the University of Pretoria, first started working at Koeberg two decades ago. He became head of nuclear engineering at Koeberg in 2016.

The nuclear power station outside of Cape Town comes to the end of its 40-year design life – and its licence to operate – in 2024. But Eskom intends to spend billions to keep it running for another 20 years.

The news of the suspension comes as the heavily indebted power utility battles a fresh spate of load shedding this week.

Rolling blackouts were temporarily suspended to allow Parliament to pass the Appropriation Bill between 12:00 and 17:00.

But stage 2 load shedding will again resume until 22:00 on Sunday, Eskom added. Load shedding was previously due to stop on Friday afternoon.

Eskom earlier said that the suspension of load shedding had been "made possible by large industrial power consumers in South Africa who have agreed to reduce their consumption for this period to support the country".

"Among others, members of the Minerals Council of South Africa, members of the Ferro Alloys Producers' Association and members of the Energy Intensive User Group have agreed to reduce demand for this period.

"This is a voluntary arrangement with the customers and is done in the national interest for this period only."

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