City applies for more time to keep Koeberg running

Cape Town municipality has sought additional time from Eskom's nuclear regulator to lobby for the extension of the vital nuclear plant's operation





Jul 3, 2024

City applies for more time to keep Koeberg running

Cape Town has sought additional time from the nuclear regulator to decide on the future operation of the Koeberg nuclear power plant, citing urban development and safety concerns. The city, which has been collaborating with the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) and state-owned utility Eskom for 20 years, faces challenges managing urban sprawl within the 5 to 16 km emergency zone around the plant.

As Eskom awaits the NNR's decision on extending Koeberg's operational life by 20 years, the city is particularly worried about land use in a rapidly developing northern area where new housing complexes are proliferating. Koeberg's current 40-year license is set to expire in July.

The NNR completed its final public hearings on the proposed license extension on June 8. Safety issues at Africa's only nuclear power station, including concerns raised by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), were at the forefront of discussions among environmental activists and community members.

"We have raised concerns about the long-term impact on the city's growth potential and the operational implications that the city must manage, given that disaster risk management is a local government responsibility," said city spokesperson Priya Reddy.

Reddy highlighted that vast tracts of land, purchased by the city and private investors, are effectively sterilised from development and unlikely to be used for new neighbourhoods if Koeberg continues operating. Although the city did not detail the specific operational challenges in the event of a radiation leak, residents at the hearings expressed fears about evacuation plans and traffic congestion.

Despite these concerns, the city defended its safety plan, stating that it is regularly updated and follows best international practices. An NNR spokesperson acknowledged Cape Town's request for more time and indicated that a final decision is expected by the end of July or August.

If Koeberg is permitted to continue operations, the Southern African Faith Communities' Environment Institute (SAFCEI) has warned of potential legal action. "The safety issues at Koeberg are so concerning that if the NNR doesn't make the right decision, we believe it could result in further legal action against the regulator," said Francesca de Gasparis, SAFCEI's executive director.

A 2022 IAEA report, released publicly after pressure from activists, identified several safety issues at Koeberg, including cracks and erosion in buildings housing the pressurised water reactors and a dysfunctional monitoring system. Eskom assured Reuters that all 14 issues mentioned in the report have been evaluated and resolved.

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