Koeberg project is now 45 days behind schedule, Electricity Minister confirms

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Minister of Electricity Kgosientsho Ramokgopa visits Ankerlig and Koeberg power stations on Friday
Minister of Electricity Kgosientsho Ramokgopa visits Ankerlig and Koeberg power stations on Friday
  • The project to extend the lifespan of Koeberg nuclear power station has suffered further delays.
  • This means Eskom will have less power available in winter than expected.
  • But Ramokgopa says this will not mean load shedding higher than Stage 6.
  • For more financial news, go to the News24 Business front page.

The project to extend the lifespan of Koeberg nuclear power station by another 20 years is running 45 days behind schedule, making it inevitable that SA will spend the entire winter without one unit, which has a capacity of 920MW.

This means that Eskom's system will be under more pressure during winter than expected. One unit of Koeberg is equal to one stage of load shedding. 

Addressing the media on Friday after meeting with Koeberg management, Minister of Electricity Kgosientsho Ramokgopa confirmed the delay. Last week, Eskom said it believed the project to be only "a few weeks late".

Said Ramokgopa: 

The project cannot meet the target to return to service by 23 July as a result of unforeseen delays. It is out by 45 days. We are going to lose 920 MW which we thought would come on stream by July, which is when we need it most, in the winter. That is the reality of the situation.

There will be a mandatory break for employees of six weeks before beginning the same operation on Unit 2, which is now scheduled for November. The delay to the start of the extension of life of Unit 2 takes Eskom dangerously close to the July 2024 deadline, when Koeberg's licence expires. A new licence for the extension of life is being sought from the National Nuclear Regulator. 

The extension of life project is a high-risk, high-precision exercise. It involves the removal of three steam generators, each weighing 450 tonnes, from each of the units to containment buildings and their replacement with new steam generators. So far, only the first steam generator has been removed from Unit 1. An attempt to undertake the refurbishment was aborted last year after it turned out insufficient preparation had been done. 

READ Eskom's Koeberg nightmare: Bosses on warpath over 'out of control' R20bn nuclear plant upgrade project

Ramokgopa said he nonetheless did not expect load shedding to go beyond Stage 6 this winter. During winter, Eskom typically scales back maintenance dramatically to make as much of the plant available as possible when demand rises. 

"The later return of Unit 1 means that the underperforming power stations in Mpumalanga have to significantly improve, particularly Tutuka. We know that we will not get any improvement from Kusile before November. Other units will have to improve disproportionately because in winter demand rises exponentially. But I want to give the SA public the assurance that I don't foresee us moving to higher stages of load shedding, that is beyond Stage 6. When we get there we will run our peaking stations," he said.

Ramokgopa said he wanted to set an agreed-upon maximum level of load shedding at which point the diesel peaking plants would be used. He would do this at the end of the tour of power stations when he felt fully informed. He suggested that it was possibly unnecessary to avoid Stage 1 and Stage 2 load shedding, but once load shedding reached higher stages, it was important to weigh up burning diesel with the cost to the economy of load shedding. 

Since December, Eskom has struggled to find the funds to purchase diesel after it overspent dramatically on diesel. Although President Cyril Ramaphosa implied in his State of the Nation address that Eskom would be provided with funds for diesel to tide it over until the new financial year, this has not materialised. 

Ramokgopa confirmed that no additional funds had flowed to Eskom for diesel, which has been using its resources to run the diesel turbines since January. He said that following the budget in which Treasury pledged fiscal support of R254 billion, Eskom had to meet a set of conditions, which included investing in maintenance and the extension of the grid, among others. 

"Eskom must make a case if it needs additional funding for diesel. The point I am making is that if the system is under pressure, the open-cycle gas turbines must be used prevent higher stages of load shedding. For that, I am sure we will be able to make the case." 

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