Koeberg hit by slew of suspensions

The Koeberg nuclear power station manager, Riedewaan Bakardien, has been suspended after he distributed a letter containing unauthorised facts and assumptions regarding Koeberg's planned maintenance outages.

A letter which led to the suspension of Koeberg nuclear power station manager Riedewaan Bakardien could be Eskom’s undoing in the Constitutional Court where it is fighting to see off a challenge from the preferred bidder it snubbed in a multi-billion rand contract to replace the plant’s aging steam generators.

According to media reports last week, Mr Bakardien was suspended on Wednesday August 10 for allegedly distributing a letter containing what Eskom called “unauthorised facts and assumptions” regarding Koeberg’s planned maintenance outages.

An Eskom statement on Wednesday August 10, said information in the letter could prejudice the utility.

An affidavit by Westinghouse to the Constitutional Court said the letter scuttled Eskom’s argument against a Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) ruling on December 8 last year, which ordered Eskom to set aside a R5 billion deal with Areva to replace six aging steam generators at Koeberg.

Areva won the contract despite a competing bid from Westinghouse, which was R140 million cheaper. Eskom argued it had awarded Areva the tender based on “strategic considerations”. But those considerations were not included in the original tender, which the Supreme Court took issue with.

Both Eskom and Areva appealed the SCA judgment to the Constitutional Court, and Westinghouse also cross-appealed the judgment to be substituted as the successful bidder without the tender being reissued.

Eskom had argued that it was critical for the safety and security of the country’s energy supply that the steam generators be replaced during Koeberg’s 2018 maintenance and refuelling outage. Eskom claimed Westinghouse would be unable to meet that deadline if the tender were reissued. However, Westinghouse said the steam generators could operate safely until 2025, and that it could use the 2020/2021 outage to replace them, if it were awarded the contract.

Eskom argued that extending the deadline was not an option as it posed a safety and security threat to the country’s power supply. But the Barkardien letter, since entered into evidence before the Constitutional Court, appears to dispute that. It reveals that the replacement of the steam generators by Areva was no longer scheduled for the 2018 outage and would also not take place by 2019/2020.

According to the letter, the shutdown planned for 2019/2020 was reduced from 45 to 35 days, and is scheduled as a “refuelling only outage”, indicating that the steam generator replacement is not scheduled for the shutdown, and could only take place at the outage in 2020/21, or later.

Eskom’s national spokesperson, Khulu Phasiwe, said Eskom was currently investigating the matter and no comment would be made until the process had run its course.

Earlier this year, in March, DA energy spokesman Gordon Mackay, accused Eskom of misleading the public over the Areva tender.

“Phasiwe stated in January 2016 that the work on the generators is 50% complete and that it would not make sense to reissue the tender. Industry experts, however, have noted that this is highly unlikely given that construction only commenced about September last year.

“The alleged progress made in the past six months is further at odds with Areva’s previous statements that they would not meet the 2018 deadline for completion if the contract award is delayed. One can only deduce that Eskom is doing everything possible to avoid having to reopen tender process that landed Areva with the contract over the preferred bidder, Westinghouse,” Mr Mackay said at the time.

Tabletalk tried to get comment from Mr Barkardien about his suspension, but Eskom referred our requests to its official spokesman.

* Meanwhile, the Hawks are investigating how a drone managed to breach Koeberg’s safety cordon violating the National Key Points Act and Civil Aviation Act.

Eskom released a statement on Wednesday August 10 saying that the drone, which crashed on the Koeberg site was in violation of the nuclear safety regulations and was returned to its owner without the investigation having been completed.

The Koeberg safety officer was subsequently suspended as a precautionary measure while the matter was being investigated by the Hawks and the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA).

Hawks spokesman, Captain Lloyd Ramovha, said the unit was investigating the incident. No arrests had been made.

The SACAA said drone pilots had to comply with civil aviation regulations, which prohibit flying aircraft near a nuclear power plant, prison, police station, crime scene, court of law, national key point or strategic installation.

SACAA spokesman Kabelo Ledwaba urged the public to report law breakers to either the police or the SACAA.

“Individuals and entities operating remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) are expected to comply with the applicable civil aviation regulations. Given the low cost and easy availability of RPAS, it is possible that errant individuals may utilise these aircraft in an unsafe manner, presenting a risk to other airspace users, the public and property.”

Those who flouted civil aviation regulations could land themselves a 10-year prison sentence, a R50 000 fine or both, he said.