CityPress - - Business - YOLANDI GROENEWALD busi­ness@city­press.co.za

An epic bat­tle in the Con­sti­tu­tional Court be­tween Eskom and French firm Areva, in the one cor­ner, and Toshiba sub­sidiary West­ing­house, in the other, is cast­ing doubt on the fu­ture of South Africa’s only nu­clear plant, Koe­berg. West­ing­house is chal­leng­ing a R5 bil­lion con­tract that Eskom awarded to Areva for the pro­vi­sion of six new steam gen­er­a­tors at the 1 800 megawatt Koe­berg plant to ex­tend its life.

The case, be­lieved to in­volve the big­gest ten­der that has been dis­puted in a South African court, has al­ready ex­posed the in­trin­sic work­ings of Eskom’s ten­der com­mit­tee board in award­ing the con­tract to Areva, ques­tion­ing whether the ten­der process was le­git­i­mate.

Af­ter Eskom took four years to make a de­ci­sion, its board awarded the multi­bil­lion-rand Koe­berg re­fur­bish­ment con­tract to Areva in Au­gust 2014, spark­ing a le­gal clash with West­ing­house.

In De­cem­ber, the Supreme Court of Ap­peal gave Eskom a se­vere dress­ing-down.

With a full Bench be­hind her, Judge Ca­role Lewis set aside the ten­der award, call­ing “the whole process ir­ra­tional and un­law­ful”.

How­ever, the court stopped short of hand­ing the ten­der back to West­ing­house, send­ing it back to Eskom “for re­con­sid­er­a­tion”.

Eskom and Areva have now ap­pealed to the Con­sti­tu­tional Court.

Both ar­gued that even if the ten­der was filled with ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties, Areva should still con­tinue with it in the in­ter­est of South Africa’s en­ergy sup­ply.

A crit­i­cal dead­line of 2018 stands cen­tral in the lat­est wran­gle.

Eskom, in an af­fi­davit by group ex­ec­u­tive for gen­er­a­tion Mat­shela Koko, sug­gests that it is now a mat­ter of nu­clear safety that the ex­ist­ing steam gen­er­a­tors be re­placed in 2018, as they are “fast ap­proach­ing the end of their life­span”.

The plan was to fit the new steam gen­er­a­tors dur­ing a planned shut­down of Koe­berg in 2018, re­ferred to as the “X23” out­age.

Eskom ar­gued that it forged ahead with the con­tract, de­spite West­ing­house’s le­gal chal­lenge, be­cause of the ur­gency of the 2018 dead­line.

Areva, in turn, said in its papers that it had al­ready started work on the project and would be able to de­liver on it sig­nif­i­cantly faster.

The French firm de­scribed Koe­berg as an age­ing nu­clear plant that needed the nec­es­sary re­vamp so as not to en­dan­ger South Africa’s elec­tric­ity sup­ply.

West­ing­house main­tains that this view was “alarmist”, adding that Areva and Eskom never men­tioned this crit­i­cal dead­line in for­mer court pro­ceed­ings.

“Eskom and Areva op­por­tunis­ti­cally sug­gest that X23 is an im­mutable dead­line for the re­place­ment of the steam gen­er­a­tors,” it said this week.

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