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South Africa's Department of Mineral Resources and Energy has said there is "no immediate crisis" from the expiry of the Nuclear Cooperation Agreement between South Africa and the USA. Utility Eskom is relying on the return to service of Koeberg 1 later this year to help tackle ongoing capacity constraints.

President Ramaphosa chairs the Cabinet Lekgotla strategic planning meeting in Pretoria on 2 February (Image: GCIS)

The Agreement for Cooperation in Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy between the USA and South Africa expired on 4 December after 25 years. Negotiations on a new agreement are ongoing, and the parties have "resolved to expedite the process", the DMRE said. It noted the temporary withdrawal by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) of authorisation allowing Westinghouse to supply nuclear fuel to Koeberg.

"The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy has noted news reports regarding the expiry of the Nuclear Cooperation Agreement between South Africa and the United States of America and would like to give an assurance that there is no immediate crisis," it said.

According to a notification published in the US Federal Register on 31 January, the suspended licence authorised Westinghouse to export components to Sweden for fabrication of fuel assemblies and the subsequent shipment of the completed fuel assemblies for use in the South African nuclear power plant. So-called 123 Agreements are mandatory for trade in nuclear goods and services between the USA and other countries.

Koeberg 1's fuel is currently supplied by Westinghouse, with unit 2's fuel coming from Framatome in France, DMRE said. Fuel for the current loading cycle has already been purchased and delivered to the plant site.

"For the next cycle, Koeberg Nuclear Power Plant is expecting fuel to be delivered by Westinghouse Electric Company LLC early 2024," DMRE said. "Therefore, there is no immediate crisis which could exacerbate the loadshedding from Eskom due to Koeberg Nuclear Power Plant. However, the Department notes that urgent resolution is needed to allow Westinghouse Electric Company LLC to provide fuel supply."

President 'fed up' of energy crisis

This comes as the South African grid faces ongoing constraints, with state-owned utility Eskom still implementing regular loadshedding after the failure of a chimney system at the Kusile coal-fired power plant in October removed more than 2,000 MW of generating capacity from the system. At the same time, unit 1 of the Koeberg plant is currently offline for a planned 6-month outage during which its three steam generators are to be replaced, removing a further 920 MWe.

The steam generator replacement as Koeberg is part of work to ensure the long-term operation of the two-unit power station. The unit is expected to return to service in June - just as electricity demand approaches its peak in the South African winter. Koeberg 2 is due to be taken offline for a similar work beginning in August. The replacement of unit 2's steam generators should have taken place in its last planned outage in January 2022, but was deferred by Eskom after fears the unit would not have been back online in time for 2022's winter peak.

Eskom board member Mteto Nyati said in a media briefing on 2 February that the work at Koeberg is one of the key priorities in the state-owned utility's two-year plan to return some 6,000MWe of generating capacity to the grid.

"In terms of Koeberg 1, which is a planned outage and is up to this point going in line with the plan, it is important that we deliver and we bring that back when it is supposed to come back [without] delays because it will add a significant amount of stability that we need," he said.

"Everyone is fed up" of loadshedding, South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa said in his weekly message on 23 January, but the country is "in the grip of an energy crisis that has been many years in the making".

"Lack of investment in new generating capacity, poor power plant maintenance, corruption and criminality, sabotage of infrastructure, rising municipal debt and a lack of suitable skills at Eskom have all created a perfect storm. There can be no sustainable solution without addressing all these factors in combination," he said.

"We should not make the mistakes of the past. For many years, critical maintenance was deferred, and our power stations were run too hard in order to keep the lights on. As a country we are now paying the price for these miscalculations.

"We must be realistic about our challenges and about what it is going to take to fix them. While we all desperately want to, we cannot end load shedding overnight."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News

Date: Saturday, 04 February 2023
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