Nine employees at Eskom’s Medupi power station have been suspended for procedural non-compliance following an explosion that rocked the plant in August 2021.
Eight of them were suspended immediately, while a “detailed Major Event Technical” and “Human Error Investigation” led to the ninth being suspended.
This is according to acting power station manager Zweli Witbooi, who confirmed that “consequence management” actions are expected to conclude at the end of May.
The blast, Witbooi explained, was the result of mixing air and hydrogen during the purging process. Hydrogen is used as a coolant but can be explosive in certain conditions.
“The incident seems to indicate procedural non-compliance and management failures,” Witbooi told journalists touring the facility at a time when the parastatal has had to implement loadshedding at various stages over the past two weeks.
Medupi is the world’s fourth-largest plant of its kind, and one of the world’s newest and most expensive coal-fired power plants.
Read in Daily Maverick: “Medupi: A story of smoke and mirrors, debt and derangement”
Tshepo Molabe, recovery manager at the plant, is overseeing bringing Unit 4 back into operation. He told Daily Maverick that while the damage is substantial, it could have been worse.
At the time, the turbine was rotating at 16 revolutions per minute instead of the normal operating speed of 3,000. An explosion inside the turbine at this speed might have sent deadly shrapnel flying all over.
The incident has serious financial implications.
It is expected to cost about R2,5-billion, but the final amount will be confirmed once agreements on prices for repairs and replacements are finalised.
Beyond the financial cost, Witbooi said the loss of a generating unit had led to a decrease in energy availability at the plant, adding to Eskom’s capacity constraints and ultimately contributing to load shedding. DM/OBP