Cape Town - Given the already precarious maintenance being carried out at the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station, the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) has said there was “no immediate crisis” over the expiration of South Africa’s pact with the US to allow nuclear fuel imports.
The department assured there was no immediate crisis regarding the expiry of the nuclear co-operation agreement between South Africa and the US and the subsequent suspension of Westinghouse’s (Eskom’s nuclear fuel supplier) licence to supply Koeberg.
Koeberg was currently being supplied with nuclear fuel from Westinghouse Electric Company LLC in the US to load Unit 1, and fuel from Framatome in France was used to load Unit 2.
Koeberg 1 went off-line on December 10 for normal maintenance, refuelling, and the replacement of the three steam generators (SGR) as part of the long-term operation to extend operating life. The unit is expected to return to service in early June.
In Eskom’s last media briefing, chief nuclear officer Keith Featherstone said there were enough nuclear fuel supplies in stock at Koeberg to keep Unit 1 running when it is expected to come back online.
Featherstone said: “The fuel that we need at Koeberg 1 is already on site and ready to be loaded. The next time we need fuel from Westinghouse is around mid-2024, (which they currently cannot supply due to the lapsing of the agreement between the US and South Africa). We have over a year to work with the government to sort out either re-establishing the US-SA agreement, or the option under the IAEA non-proliferation agreement between different countries for Westinghouse to apply for permission to supply us fuel as a once-off each time it supplies fuel.”
Featherstone said the nuclear fuel supply for Unit 2 would not be impacted as this fuel from Framatome was imported from France.
Addressing the matter, the department said: “With many years of strong diplomatic relations between South Africa and the US, the two states signed a nuclear co-operation agreement on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy in 1995, which came into effect on December 4, 1997 for a period of 25 years. As such, the term of the agreement expired by effluxion of time on December 4, 2022.”
The DMRE said it initiated negotiations for the conclusion of a new standardised nuclear co-operation agreement with the US in 2018 but the negotiations were still ongoing.
The department added there was no immediate crisis which could exacerbate the load shedding from Eskom due to Koeberg.
However, urgent resolution was needed to allow Westinghouse to provide fuel supply. The department was working with other government departments to expedite the negotiations of the new nuclear co-operation agreement with the US.