The end of the US-SA pact could hit Koeberg

Koeberg. Photo: Gallo Images

Eskom is studying how the suspension of a pact that allows it to import nuclear fuel components from the US will affect Koeberg, its only nuclear power plant.

The US-South Africa Cooperation Agreement on Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy expired on December 4th. As a result, Westinghouse Electric lost its license from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission to export fuel assemblies to Eskom’s Koeberg facility near Cape Town.

“Eskom is investigating the impact of withdrawing US NRC certification for Westinghouse and what is required for them to continue supplying fuel,” the utility said in a response to questions. Eskom does not anticipate that it will “need to sign new fuel contracts due to this current issue,” and Koeberg is not expected to run out of nuclear fuel anytime soon, it said.

The development could thwart Eskom’s efforts to end record-high nationwide power outages that are crippling the economy. The matter could be raised with US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who is visiting South Africa this week.

US President Joe Biden was ready to extend the existing agreement in August, but it has yet to be phased out. South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation spokesman Clayson Monyela and a spokesman for the Department of Energy could not immediately comment.

The Westinghouse license authorizes the company to export fuel components to Sweden for fabrication into finished assemblies and then ship them to South Africa for use in both of Koeberg’s reactors under NRC regulations.

According to Eskom, Westinghouse and Framatome of France were retained as nuclear fuel suppliers for the plant. The US firm has already supplied the material that will be loaded during maintenance on one currently running unit, while fuel for the second has been provided by the French firm, sources said.

“The contracts with Westinghouse and Framatome cover the fuel needed beyond those two outages,” Eskom said.

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