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The Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (Safcei) says that Eskom needs to be more realistic about the country’s precarious energy situation and consider whether pushing the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station past its sell-by date is worth risking an energy catastrophe.

This follows the announcement from the state-owned utility (SOE) that load shedding will move to Stage 4, as a result of a fault at the nuclear plant’s Unit 1 – which may only be resolved by Sunday.

Safcei’s Executive Director Francesca de Gasparis says, “As a result of unchecked, ongoing mismanagement and corruption over the years, Eskom has allowed its equipment and infrastructure to age and damage.

“Out-of-order coal plants, an aging nuclear plant and an unstable grid, these have all culminated into load shedding that has, at times, reached up to Stage 6.”

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Peter Becker from Koeberg Alert Alliance adds, “Koeberg was built in the 1980s, which means some of its components are nearly 40 years old. It’s hardly surprising that there are failures. And, like an old car, the problems will only increase as time goes on.”

Becker says that even though Eskom claims that the reactor is safe, one of the safety mechanisms at Koeberg is a reliance on the national grid.

“If the reactors need to be shut down for any reason, they no longer produce electricity. This means that to continue to operate the plant and to prevent the high-level waste stored at Koeberg from overheating and melting, electricity must be available to Koeberg from an external source.”

“With the current instability of the grid in South Africa, it is questionable whether it is worth taking the extra risk of keeping Koeberg running. We may think we are in a bad situation now, with the Coronavirus outbreak, the economy and electricity shortages.

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“But, can you imagine if a nuclear incident at Koeberg – which required mass evacuation – was added to that!” adds Becker.

According to de Gasparis, “This latest problem at Koeberg is cause for serious concern, since the plant should reach the end of its operating life in 2024, but Eskom wants to keep it running until 2044.

“While there have been upgrades to the plant, one has to question whether extending its life is the safest option for South Africans and an affordable option for the country’s energy needs,”

“With Eskom’s appalling track record, can South Africans really rely on the SOE to install and safely maintain the plant for an additional twenty (20) years? South Africans need more transparency on Koeberg.

“Furthermore, Safcei believes that the time has come for Eskom to move forward with decommissioning Koeberg, not extending its life. If we mean to adequately address climate change, Eskom should move to focus its attention to unlocking the potential of renewable energy and incorporating it more substantially,” says de Gasparis.

“What Eskom continues to do to this country should be viewed as a human rights violation. In Safcei’s submission to the Zondo Commission of Enquiry last year, we highlighted the numerous allegations of poor decision-making and corruption, which is compounding the suffering of South Africans.

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“The lack of ethical governance at the SOE in recent years must be addressed and citizens and businesses must start seeing culprits being brought to book.

“Citizens cannot continue to pay – through increased tariffs and ongoing, disruptive load shedding – for Eskom’s mistakes, while they run scot-free,” concludes de Gasparis.