Ex-Koeberg nuclear plant worker lashes out at SA plans

Dec 30 2015 06:49

Cape Town – Fin24 user Martin Albert, who worked at Koeberg nuclear power station while it was being built and when it started operations, believes the nuclear procurement programme will be the “death of South Africa”.

READ: Fin24 readers speak out against nuclear energy

READ: Nuclear adviser responds to his critics

Albert writes:

I am just an ordinary layman and I would not even try and argue all the so-called positives that Dr Kelvin Kemm seems to think nuclear brings to the party. However, I worked at Koeberg power station both during the project and during commercial operation.

READ: SA nuclear site set to get green light - by Kelvin Kemm

I would beg to differ quite strongly that Koeberg was finished on time or under budget. In reality, it had very little South African build in it. The lion's share of the work went to Frametome, Framex, Alstom and a host of French companies such as KCC that were in joint venture with a couple of local companies.

This was a pre-condition to France “lending” us the money to build nuclear (SA wanted a German build but was unable to get financing); we had to use a French design (Tricastan was the sister plant which used old technology) and French contractors to build.

Thus, France laughed all the way to the bank. In terms of the cost of Koeberg, this was always a state secret that was never revealed, as was the cost per kW-h compared to local coal stations.

ANC bombing cost R500m

There were also problems during construction when the African National Congress bombed the plant and set the programme back by 18 months and R500m.

There were many other problems too.

Piping elbows had to be replaced due to the lead tags, which were not removed during the smelting and casting process overseas. Then there was the welding programme that revealed that contractors had copied radiographs instead of carrying out X-rays on critical welds. Operating manuals were taken from Tricastan and translated by non-technical translators, which resulted in Koeberg having to generate a humungous amount of operating procedures.

Thus, there is no way that any so-called expert can say with any conviction that Koeberg came in on time and under budget.

The second issue I would like to take umbrage with is our so-called highly competent nuclear scientists and engineers. I hope these are not the same dudes (suckers?) that went and destroyed the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor project.

Literally billions were spent on a project driven by nuclear scientists, engineers and good old Eskom as the Project Office. We designed and redesigned and redesigned until we had designed ourselves out of existence. We placed orders and paid (in full) for components from Spain, Germany, etc and to this day nothing has ever been delivered. The project is in tatters and the intellectual capital has taken flight.

Medupi raises questions about competency

Supporting all of this is our inability to project manage large projects. Medupi stands as a testament to our competency in all the disciplines, be it design, build, commission, manage, etc.

Lastly, we have the nuclear regulator: it never ceases to amaze me how all of sudden competency is guaranteed, despite the Koeberg weld debacle, what Pelindaba did to its workers in the dark days of apartheid, the recent uranium leakage accident and the never solved break-in.

And to top it all off, we have yet to solve the problem of nuclear waste - building more and more storage pools at the facility is not the solution, but poses a very serious threat to our future and the environment.

Recently, Steven Starr in Physicians for Social Responsibility reported that the estimated total economic loss from the Fukushima incident ranges from $250bn to $500bn. As for the human costs, in September 2012 Fukushima officials stated that 159 128 people had been evicted from the exclusion zones, losing their homes and virtually all their possessions.

Will highly competent scientists, engineers and government bear the brunt of such an incident? I think not, but the public will.

Nuclear will be the death of this country. It is driven by an archaic need to be relevant and only enjoys the support of everybody involved in nuclear, be it a scientist, engineer, project manager, BEE beneficiary and tenderpreneur, as well as a government that is encouraging it for all the wrong reasons.

With all these good things going on I am sure Joe Public has absolutely nothing to worry about.

Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on Fin24 have been independently written by members of the Fin24 community. The views of users published on Fin24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent those of Fin24.

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koeberg  |  eskom  |  kelvin kemm  |  energy  |  sa nuclear deal


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