Eskom plans to repair unit 1 of the Koeberg nuclear power station and return it to service before commencing a two month refuelling and maintenance outage of unit 2. Unit 1 has been down since December 2005 and the Cape Town area has suffered ongoing power cuts and a cost to its economy of at least R500 million ($80 million).

Public enterprises minister Alec Erwin has previously told the press that a bolt was left in the generator after routine maintenance last year and that it “did not get there by accident.” He later used the term, “human instrumentality” to describe the “exceptional incident” that wrecked the generator of Koeberg 1. Now, intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils has announced that “a joint investigation by Eskom and the National Intelligence Agency has been launched regarding allegations of sabotage at the Koeberg nuclear plant.”

Eskom has already procured all of the required spare parts – including a rotor and stator bars – from Electricité de France but questions remain about how the 200t rotor can be offloaded from the helicopter pad of the South African navy’s support ship Drakensberg when it docks on 20 April. It has been reported that the rotor is the only one of its type available in the world, and, in the event that EdF suffers a similar failure at one of its units, Eskom would have to bear the cost of replacement electricity, according to Erwin. Another condition of the rotor’s use is that it would be returned to EdF within six weeks once Koeberg 1’s is repaired.

Framatome built both the 965MWe PWR units in the late 1970s and early 1980s with Alstom-supplied turbine generators. Unit 2 is operating at a reduced output of about 800MWe as it maintains baseload power whilst delaying a scheduled fuel change. Eskom plans to synchronise unit 1 to the grid in the middle of May before beginning the refuelling outage of unit 2 in the third week of May.

South Africa is building 1050MWe of gas generation to be online by April 2007 and encouraging sweeping conservation measures, but the Cape area still faces a shortfall of about 300MWe over the next three months.