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How SA can build nuclear plants without overruns and delays

Jan 13 2016 17:03
* David Milne

Cape Town – A South African chemical engineer with three decades of big build experience has explained how South Africa can build its nuclear power plants in a way that avoids any delays or added costs.

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Fin24 user David Milne said the creation of an Owner’s Team and the appointment within the Owner’s Team of professional engineers with the necessary project management skills to oversee the project is imperative to ensure the success of South Africa’s planned 9 600 MW nuclear build programme.

Milne writes…

Reviewing the animated debate in your columns over the last few months, I have noted the arguments both for and against South Africa’s mooted procurement of nuclear energy units for 9 600MW of new base-load electrical capacity.

Whereas most of the arguments against the proposed project have related to its environmental and affordability aspects, some others of these adverse comments have disputed the ability of South Africa to manage such a complex project.

Perhaps Eskom’s experience with its Medupi and Kusile projects with their large cost overruns and extensive schedule delays underlay these negative comments, but it is my assertion that whereas these concerns are justifiable they can be assuaged.

Addressing Medupi, Kusile concerns

How can these concerns be addressed? By the creation of an Owner’s Team and the appointment within the Owner’s Team of professional engineers with the necessary project management skills to oversee the project. The Owner should resist the temptation to involve itself directly in the management of the project, but instead should rely upon such a team of professional engineers to do so, for and on its behalf.

This Owner’s Team would realise that it would be folly to attempt to undertake the project management at the micro level as this clearly should not be its raison d’être. Instead the Owner’s Team would break up the project into a series of packages each with a well-defined scope of work. These work packages would specify objectively what is to be provided, by when and at what cost.

Each package would be given to a competent engineering contractor for execution and the Owner Team would manage these contractors by monitoring their conformance with these objectives. By such a strategy, responsibility for micro-project management would be vested in the contractor. The principle of divide et impera, divide and conquer, would govern the actions of the Owner Team.

The Owner Team beforehand would have dictated to each contractor the manner in which its performance is to be reported each month. These dictates would embody the severe project management guidelines advocated by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which, inter alia, require each contractor to summarise its progress in mathematical non-dimensional terms, in effect providing efficiency factors for its utilisation of the Owner’s time frame and budget.

It should not be overlooked that these project management skills are and have been available in South Africa for many years and could be called upon to assist in the execution of this important project.

Other than the nuclear reactors, there is nothing very complicated about a nuclear energy project provided that the chosen supplier for the reactors is rigorously monitored for its adherence to the IAEA standards by the Owner’s Team. It would be essential for the Owner’s Team to specify in the Invitation to Bid (ITB) documentation to be issued to potential suppliers what is to be expected regarding the project management outputs from the successful nuclear supplier.

Quality control far more demanding

Lest I be regarded as being unduly simplistic, I do not overlook the crucial importance of the quality control aspects of a nuclear project. These aspects are far more demanding and rigorous than those for a conventional process engineering project. The management of the documentation for every facet of a nuclear reactor demands the utmost diligence to ensure compliance with international standards, but with adequate professional resources, augmented perhaps by international agencies, this should not present an unsurmountable obstacle for the Owner’s Team.

As well as a project management element, the Owner’s Team also would include professional engineers to monitor the contractors’ civil, structural, mechanical, electrical, instrumentation and process/nuclear engineers.

The ancillary infrastructure for the nuclear reactors is straightforward and involves the efforts of qualified artisans for the civil, structural, mechanical, electrical and instrumentation disciplines.

Perhaps the most important skill required would be coded welders for piping and vessels. A leaf could be taken from the practice in the 1970s by the engineering contractor for the Sasol Two and Three projects in setting up a training school at the Secunda site to produce the certified coded welders for the two projects.

With suitable foresight and training, the bulk of the artisans could be found in South Africa, hence avoiding the need to import large numbers from off-shore.

The reason for my writing to Fin24 on this matter is because, both as a very concerned South African citizen/tax payer and as a professional engineer, under no circumstances would I wish to see a repetition of the Eskom saga with its project management problems.

* David Milne is a registered professional engineer and holds a PhD in chemical engineering from the University of the Witwatersrand. He has been intimately involved in the project management of large capital projects in South Africa over the last three decades in the mining, process and industrial sectors of the economy.

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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.

eskom  |  medupi  |  kusile  |  sa nuclear deal


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