Thursday, August 23, 2007

Earthlife Warns On 'Excessive' Koeberg Waste

Earthlife Warns On 'Excessive' Koeberg Waste
John Yeld

Eskom is storing an "excessive" amount of high-level nuclear waste in its on site cooling ponds at the Koeberg nuclear power station, according to environmental group Earthlife Africa Cape Town.

But Eskom denies the charge, saying its high-level waste storage facility was modified during the late 1990s and that, while just under 1000 tons of spent fuel was on site, this was "well within the licence conditions".

Earthlife believed the high-level waste accumulated on site was "far beyond" what the system was originally designed to manage and posed "serious concerns" about the safety of the waste, said spokesperson Maya Aberman.

The organisation was also concerned about information supplied to it suggesting that boron levels in the water around the spent fuel were "abnormally high", at approximately 2 000 parts per million.

Boron is used to absorb neutrons emitted by the radio-active waste.

In response, Eskom spokesperson Carin de Villiers said the fuel pools had undergone a modification during the late 1990s which enabled them to store the total quantity of spent fuel expected to be produced over the 40-year design life of the plant.

"A full safety assessment was performed and submitted to the NNR, who evaluated and approved the modification."

The maximum number of fuel elements allowed to be stored in the spent fuel pools was specified in the station's nuclear installation licence.

"For each spent fuel pool the maximum number is 1 536 fuel assemblies - that is, a total of 3 072 fuel elements for the station.

"As indicated in the Eskom Annual Report 2007 a total of 1 561 spent fuel elements have been produced in the 23 years of operation up to the end of March 2007.

"At present the pools contain just under 1 000 tons of spent fuel, including the structural material in the fuel elements.

"It is clear that the total amount of spent fuel is well within the licence conditions."

The spent fuel pools were designed to operate with a boron concentration of around 2 000 parts per million, De Villiers added.

Aberman said information about the spent fuel cast "serious doubt" on the praise issued to Koeberg by the National Occupational Safety Association.

"It's worthwhile to note that in reports issued by both the National Energy Regulator of South Africa and Eskom itself, following problems at Koeberg in 2005/6, problems were attributed to negligence and inadequate corrective action on the part of personnel, insufficient supervisory oversight controls and limitations to the experience and training of staff."

It had been alleged that Eskom had failed to respond to warnings and had failed to test vital equipment for periods of up to 10 years.

"As such, the high score accorded to Koeberg by the National Occupational Safety Association is a mystery," said Aberman.

"Given conflicting reports emanating from various sources about events at Koeberg, we are asking 'How can the safety of the plant be assured?' "

De Villiers said in response that the safety of Koeberg was ensured by the "very strict" international standards that the plant had to comply with, as well as oversight by the National Nuclear Regulator who has full-time inspectors on the Koeberg site.

Also, regular international peer reviews of Koeberg were undertaken every two to three years, and Eskom also had its own internal nuclear inspectorate, independent of the power station, that continuously monitored and evaluated safety, De Villiers said.


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