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.