Eskom has awarded a multibillion-rand contract to refurbish six steam generators at Koeberg nuclear power plant to French multinational Areva.
The award – announced late on Friday evening – presents a remarkable turnaround for Areva because its American-Japanese rival Westinghouse was twice recommended for the bulk of contract in 2011 and 2013.
Dubbed the never-ending tender, Eskom has taken more than four years to arrive at its decision. The delays have risked what one senior Eskom source has called “a nuclear safety issue” because the steam generators have been in place for thirty years, and are nearing the end of their lifespan.
“Based on the lead times for the manufacture of six new steam generators, Eskom is planning for installation in 2018. The 2018 installation plan is also aligned to Eskom’s maintenance activities planned for Koeberg. The timeline also ensures that all Koeberg safety issues are addressed to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements,” Eskom said in its statement announcing the award.
But Eskom may not be out of the woods, given the chaos and acrimony that surrounded the tender decision-making process.
Court review available
Westinghouse could now decide to take their decision to court for a review, a move that is within their rights, but could drag the scheduled maintenance date back even further.
Westinghouse could point to the fact that Eskom’s technical team had recommended it for the bulk of a three-part contract in January 2013, only for the board’s tender committee to review and eventually overturn the decision.
The review process, conducted externally by European-based consultancy firm AF Consult at the instigation of the board tender committee, recommended a single integrated contract.
At one point, there were three competing legal opinions in circulation – two commissioned by the technical team, one by the board tender committee – which arrived at different conclusions as to whether Eskom could award a single integrated contract when the original tender had been issued in three parts.
The single integrated contract favoured by AF Consult and the board tender committee also raised the stakes for both bidders: whereas before they might have shared the spoils, the contract became a winner-take-all decision.
Allegations of bias
With both bidders biding their time ahead of the far bigger new nuclear build decision that has long been promised by government, the steam generator contract represents a useful return on their investment in South Africa in the meantime.
AF Consult had also levelled accusations of bias against the technical team arising from their recommendation of Westinghouse.
The allegations of bias against the technical team were only dropped when there was no turning back on a competitive negotiation tender process that pitted Areva against Westinghouse.
Despite the way the process unfolded, Eskom said: “The board is satisfied with the integrity [of] all processes and ensured that they remained fair and in adherence to good governance.”
* Got a tip-off for us about this story? Click here.
The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.