Nuke plan for Koeberg

Athina May

Eskom’s application to the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) for two nuclear installation licences to build a nuclear power plant at Duynefontein, next to the existing Koeberg plant, and another at Thyspunt in the Eastern Cape, has sparked fears about what nuclear expansion could mean for West Coast communities.

The application was submitted on Thursday March 10 for site licences to assess the suitability of the areas for nuclear power stations. The South African government wants to add an extra 9600 megawatts of nuclear power to the national grid by 2030.

The proposed Duynefontein site is on the 3000 hectare Koeberg property, which, apart from the power plant, also accommodates a visitors’ centre, training facility and various other Eskom buildings. But Eskom stakeholder management manager Lewis Phidza says there’s enough space to build another power plant, which the proposal sites north of Koeberg, without impacting the nuclear emergency plan.

However Mike Kantey, the national chairman of the Coalition Against Nuclear Energy (CANE), says Eskom’s application gives residents no idea of the size, scale and make of the proposed station.

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“Although the chances of accidents happening are small, the consequence of an accident would be catastrophic,” he said. “A nuclear plant is like a very powerful kettle, the element is the nuclear fuel. If a reaction gets out of hand, it would be a huge problem to control it, and, like steam leaves a kettle, it would cause contamination. They can’t evacuate the whole of Cape Town.”

Melkbosstrand Residents’ Association chairwoman Smokie la Grange doesn’t think South Africa can afford the nuclear build programme, given the country’s current financial woes.

She’s concerned about quality of workmanship and compliance with safety regulations if the project does go ahead.

“Koeberg has a formidable safety history. Whoever gets the contract had better have the same safety track record. An undertaking of this size has a massive price tag, and South Africa would need the political and financial will to achieve it. Given the current climate, I doubt whether this project will go ahead any time soon,” said Ms La Grange.

On Wednesday March 9, the Department of Energy director-general Thabane Zulu said the true cost of the nuclear power remained unknown and that the response to the request for proposals for the nuclear build would provide an indication of a possible funding model for the nuclear programme.

Mr Phidza said: “Eskom is carrying on with all the necessary applications to the National Nuclear Regulator … Once the design and model has been selected, Eskom will apply for a nuclear installation licence to assess the safety of nuclear reactor installation.”

NNR spokesman Gino Moonsamy said the nuclear site installation application was in the administrative review stage, and all safety aspects would be considered during the review.

“The NNR can assure all stakeholders that its regulatory framework and practices are in line with international best practices and the NNR will not compromise when it comes to protecting South Africans from nuclear and radiological risks.

“The NNR can confirm that Koeberg has a reputable track record for operating safely. At this stage, it is an internal administrative review process which does not require public participation. Public feedback and updates will be provided as soon as the different stages are completed. Updates will be posted on the NNR website,” said Mr Moonsamy.