Power utility Eskom on Wednesday revealed a drone crashed at its Koeberg Power Station in contravention of the nuclear safety regulations.
Koeberg Power Station, located approximately 30km northwest of Cape Town, close to Melkbosstrand, is a nuclear power station and is currently the only such facility on the entire African continent.
In a statement, the power utility says the drone in question was returned to its owner without the investigation having been completed.
Eskom has subsequently suspended the Koeberg safety officer as a precautionary measure to fully investigate the incident. The matter has also been reported to the SAPS as Koeberg is a national key point.
As of 1 July 2015, the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) adopted new regulations for operating drones in SA. The regulations were because of a rising need from the industry to regulate this new technology so it could operate safely within local airspace.
This placed SA as a world leader in drone regulation, and many other countries have followed suit. SA is a member of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). ICAO is working with the member states to create an international regulatory framework for drones using standards and recommended practice.
In an unrelated issue at the nuclear plant, Eskom also has placed the Koeberg Power Station manager and plant manager on precautionary suspension as a result of what it says is “the distribution of documentation containing unauthorised facts and assumptions relating to Koeberg’s Production Plan and in particular, the steam generator replacement”.
It says the potential prejudice caused to Eskom by the unauthorised actions of the suspended personnel is being assessed.
Besides Eskom celebrating on Wednesday that it has gone for a full year without implementing load-shedding, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said its members at Eskom will embark on a full-blown strike in all nine provinces on Wednesday over a wage dispute. Wednesday, the power utility obtained a court interdict to prevent NUM members from taking strike action against what they perceive as low wage increases.
The crash incident at the power plant comes as Eskom pushes for the use of nuclear to boost its energy mix while doing away with renewable energy besides it being a success story in the country.
Eskom said in a statement that recent global developments indicate an international shift towards nuclear power generation and SA stands in good stead with its new build plans.
The move made by the power utility to not sign power purchase agreements with independent power producers (IPPs) after the current round is finalised has left the renewables industry fuming.
Bruce Raw, programme manager at GreenCape Energy, a not-for-profit organisation established in 2010 by the Western Cape government, says the true impact of cancellations, delays and uncertainty around the IPP and renewable energy programmes go much further than the energy sector.
“It puts at risk thousands of current and future jobs, a host of local manufacturing companies, communities’ welfare and, most importantly, undoes what is arguably the most effective public private partnership model this country has ever seen,” Raw says.