Preparations are underway for the replacement of the six steam generators at Eskom’s 1840 MW Koeberg nuclear power station, in what South Africa’s national electricity utility says is the most complex project ever undertaken at the nuclear facility since it was commissioned some 36 years ago in 1985.
The replacement of three of the steam generators on the 920 MW nuclear reactor unit 2 is set to start in January 2022 in an outage planned to last 155 days. Thereafter, if all goes well, Eskom will commence replacement of a second set of three steam generators on the 920 MW reactor unit 1 in October 2022, in a similar 155-day planned outage.
In total, therefore, Eskom will be without at least 920 MW of base supply from the nuclear power plant for some ten months between January 2022 and February 2023. This will serve to lower Eskom’s average energy availability factor (EAF) below the current EAF of 62% on Eskom’s fleet of power stations for the past 12 months and to increase the probability of load-shedding during this period.
The steam generator replacement project is the largest part of a mid-life refurbishment and safety upgrade at the Koeberg nuclear power station. The current operating licence expires in 2024, and these upgrades are required by the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) to extend the operating life of the nuclear facility by a further 20 years.
At a recent media briefing, Eskom COO Jan Oberholzer indicated an additional risk to the Koeberg life-extension project resulting from the loss of key skilled personal at the nuclear power plant. He stated that he was “nervous but confident” that the additional planning work done would enable Eskom to execute the works properly without any major issues.
However, the final safety-case report for the life-extension project still has to be submitted by Eskom to the NNR by the end of November 2021 for approval. This presents a very tight timeline for Eskom to address any issues raised by the NNR, right over the festive season, before the first outage in January 2022.
Eskom cannot say for sure that there will be no surprises in the response from the NNR to its safety-case submission at the end of November 2021. However, unless there are some “curved balls” arising, Eskom does not foresee any unexpected new requirements coming from the NNR.
In complex work of this nature, there is always a risk that unexpected problems and delays can arise that were not initially anticipated. However, Eskom believes that any such issues can be dealt with in the normal course of events.
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