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PORTFOLIO COMMITTEES ON MINERALS AND ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENTAL AFFAIRS AND TOURISM
08 March 2006
NCOP AMENDMENTS TO ELECTRICITY REGULATION BILL: ADOPTION; NATIONAL NUCLEAR REGULATOR REPORT ON RECENT EVENTS AT KOEBERG: BRIEFING
Chairpersons: Mr N Mthethwa (ANC) and Mr L Zita (ANC)
Documents handed out:
Overview of the Electricity Regulation Bill
Report on Recent Events at Koeberg
The Portfolio Committee on Minerals and Energy adopted National Council of Provinces amendments to the Electricity Regulation Bill without discussion.
Both Committees were then briefed by the National Nuclear Regulator on recent events at Koeberg Nuclear Power Station in the Western Cape. The Regulator stressed that the recent problems had not comprised nuclear safety at Koeberg in any way. Members probed the reasons for damage to one of Koeberg’s generators; the economic cost of recent power outages and the role of the Regulator in relation to Koeberg’s operations.
NCOP Amendments to the Electricity Regulation Bill
Mr O Aphane (Chief Director: Electricity, Department of Minerals and Energy (DME)) pointed out that the amendments proposed by the NCOP are mainly due to a number of typos, and therefore are not meant to alter the content of the Bill. The NCOP had adopted the Electricity Regulation Bill with the following amendments:
1. "consumers" was replaced with "end users"
2. The rules of administrative nature were allocated to the regulator
3. The regulator was obliged to form "end user forums" and licensees, so that end users would be allowed to participate
4. The Minister was empowered to draft regulations for norms and standards relating to quality of supply and renewable energy.
The Members of the Committee agreed with the NCOP proposed amendments to the Bill.
National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) briefing
Dr T Hill briefed the Committee about the recent developments at Koeberg Nuclear Power Station. He explained that on 25 December 2005, Unit 1 at Koeberg was shutdown for generator repairs. The problem was subsequently reported as a loose bolt (8cm) left inside the generator. The NNR conducted a maintenance inspection and no safety issues were identified. However, Unit 1 remains shutdown while repairs on the generator are being done.
Dr Hill reported that on 19 February 2006, 'heavy mist and residual pollution from fires' led to grid power supply problems which also affected the power supply from Acacia (three generators) to Koeberg. Consequently, Eskom was directed to keep the plant shutdown until assurance was provided that the safety requirements were fulfilled. The plant was synchronised to the national grid on 23 February 2006.
On 28 February 2006, one of the 400KV lines supplying the Western Cape with power from the north experienced a fault. Also, Unit 2 went into "household condition" as per design according to which the unit generates and supplies electrical power needed for cooling its reactor and spent fuel pool. What was not expected, however, is that subsequently to that, Unit 2 experienced a turbine trip and shut down completely. To make matters worse, the 132KV line from Acacia also experienced a problem due to a switching error at the Acacia power station which tripped the generator sets at Acacia.
Dr Hill further explained that the connection to the 400KV network and the 132KV dedicated line from Acacia power station were re-established; however, Eskom was directed to keep the plant shutdown until:
* Assurance was provided as to the operability of the 400KV and 132KV power supplies
* Assurance was provided that no security threat existed that would put the safety of the unit in jeopardy
Such assurance was provided to the NNR on 2 March 2006.
Mr E Lucas (IFP) noted that the main question in the Cape Town power outage situation has not been answered. That question is how the 8cm bolt found its way into the generator. He further went on to voice the opinion that Minister Alec Erwin has not help the situation with his claims of sabotage. Mr Lucas made it clear that if this was indeed the work of saboteurs, then that would mean there is another dimension which can be added to this whole situation.
Mr Lucas's second question referred to the part coming from France to repair Unit 1 which was shutdown on 25 December 2005 for generator repairs. He asked for assurance that Unit 1 would be in full operation by the end of May without any problems.
However, he emphasised the point that in times of crisis, it did not help to point fingers. What is important in times of crisis is that "we should rally together" and search for solutions. One of the most vital things in this process and what this Committee needs is honesty. This Committee needs to know what is going on, because all of the information in its possession was collected from newspapers and from general speculation by the public. But most importantly, this Committee needs to know what it is going to cost the country to fix this problem. How much has the electricity problem cost the country thus far?
Mr G Morgan (DA) agreed with Mr Lucas that in times of crisis it is imperative to look for solutions, but also to demand accountability. He went on to ask what issues were raised in relation to the loose 8cm bolt found in the generator. Secondly, did the bolt in question appear in any inventories around the time that the problem was discovered? Does the bolt incident affect our safety and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) ratings? With regards to the incident of 28 February, who can the public hold responsible for the switching error to Acacia?
Mr W Greyling (ID) reiterated that the Committee needed to get to the bottom of what has been going on at Koeberg. He pointed out that with regards to the 8cm bolt, though the NNR claims that safety was never compromised, there has been a lot of speculation in the media that it might have been sabotage and also, there have been reports that there was a criminal investigation into that. Is there any truth to those reports? Can the NNR say that this was sabotage or just an accident that happened?
Mr Greyling was also interested in how the NNR conducted its investigations. What is the capacity of the NNR to conduct independent investigations? How vigorous has the NNR been in its examination of Koeberg? How many staff members were used?
Mr A Makoena (ANC) mentioned that he had visited Koeberg several times as a Member of Parliament. He pointed out that even Members of Parliament had been subjected to rigorous searches before entering the facility. He brought that up because he appreciated the strictness at Koeberg.
Mr Makoena expressed his surprise that a sophisticated facility like Koeberg could not detect a bolt that fell into a generator. Why were the problems at Koeberg not foreseen? Further, what is the solution? What can the public expect in the future as far as these power problems are concerned? He pointed out that the ordinary Capetonian is thinking about winter that is around the corner. What about the 2010 Soccer World Cup? These are the questions that need to be dealt with in this meeting.
Mr M Magugumela (CEO, NNR) replied to the questions by first tackling the nature of the questions raised by Members. He pointed out that certain issues raised by the Committee did not relate to the NNR agenda. The question about how much the electricity problem was costing the country fell under this category. He explained that these were economic issues.
Mr D Olifant (ANC) pointed out that these issues were interconnected, and so for the NNR to argue that they did not deal with economic issues could be problematic in trying to get all the answers at the end of the day.
The chairperson reiterated that the issues are interconnected and deserved to be treated as such. He also pointed out that on 14 March 2006, the Portfolio Committee on Public Enterprises would ask Eskom to give answers to some of the questions the NNR could not answer. He made it clear that these issues were important and interconnected, and so it was important that if the NNR could not answer some of the questions, then Eskom should provide the answers.
Mr Magugumela explained that the issue of the 8cm bolt was still being investigated, and so he could not comment on the origins of the bolt. He elaborated that he understands the frustration of the Committee as well as the public, but the NNR would comment on the issue of the bolt only once the investigation into the origins of the bolt was completed.
Mr Magugumela also explained that the decisions about the operation of the nuclear reactors were not in the NNR’s hands. He pointed out that these are issues determined by the operators, in this case Eskom. And so, because of that, the NNR cannot give any guarantees of when and which unit would be fully operational. It could however guarantee that the unit would be safe at any given time.
Mr Morgan explained that he accepts the need for the investigation into the origins of the 8cm bolt. However, he asked for clarification on the post-maintenance reports of last year. Did the bolt appear in any of the samples that were done last year?
Dr Hill replied that the NNR sampled the maintenance activities of Koeberg last year, but did not sample the generator because it is not safety related equipment and so that would not have been covered by the NNR inspections.
Ms J Chalmers (ANC) explained that the French rotor is apparently the only spare one that exists in France, and asked what was going to happen if the French suddenly need it back.
Prof I Mohamed (ANC) pointed that the issue of the 8cm bolt was never really explained to the Members of the Committee. This included questions like was the bolt an additional bolt, or did the bolt come out of the generator, or was there stress in the bolt? He emphasised the point that he was depressed with the way the bolt situation had been handled.
Mr Magugumela made it clear that Minister Erwin had never met with any officials from the NNR since the power outages and so the NNR could not have planted ideas of sabotage in the Minister’s mind. He said that the NNR could not comment on the question of the French rotor as that was not part of the NNR agenda.
The chairperson noted that the Committee needed to hear again from the NNR, especially with regards to the 8cm bolt that was found in the generator.
The meeting was adjourned.
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