HomeIndustry SectorsAsset MaintenanceWhat project management of SA’s new nuclear build will look like

What project management of SA’s new nuclear build will look like

The decision by the South African government to consider the provision of 2,500MW of electricity from nuclear energy is to be welcomed. For a project of this size and strategic importance, it is necessary to ensure that its management should comply with the highest international standards to prevent the cost and schedule overruns that in the past have characterised large projects.

For this project, it would be necessary for the Government (the Owner) ab initio to create a project management team for the nuclear build to advance and protect its interests.

The Owner team would not commit the folly of undertaking the project management function itself and one of its first tasks would be to appoint, not only the nuclear vendor but also an Engineering, Procurement and Construction Management (EPCM) contractor to be responsible for the entire project other than the installation and commissioning of the reactor. The Owner team would oversee at the macro level the performance of the EPCM contractor and the nuclear vendor.

This EPCM contractor would design, procure, construct and commission several units and infrastructure using certified design information from the nuclear vendor for the support infrastructure within the nuclear island.

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The Owner team would contain professional persons spanning the project management function. These engineering disciplines are available in South Africa. The team would mandate its project management requirements to the nuclear vendor and the EPCM contractor before their appointment, namely at regular intervals to provide the Owner team with objective information to allow, inter alia, the determination of their compliance with the stipulations of budget and schedule.

This information would permit the Owner team from an early stage of the project to ascertain the likelihood of a budget or a schedule deviation and to enforce effective remedial action while there still is time to do so. Recognition of these deviations only at a late stage of the project invariably results in a fait accompli and an inability to redress an unfavourable state of affairs.

apart from the enclave, the rest of the facility is straightforward

The execution of the nuclear project, from a project management perspective, would not be unduly complex. It is true that the design and construction standards for a nuclear plant are understandably onerous, far more so than those for a conventional process engineering facility but these exacting standards would not make the project management function, per se, unnecessarily complicated. Apart from the nuclear enclave, the rest of the facility is straightforward and no different from a traditional process engineering project.

Another early task for the Owner team would be to specify that all pipe fabrication, to the greatest extent possible, be done at the Thyspunt site. It would not make economic sense for the pipe spools to be fabricated elsewhere and transported to the site.

The EPCM contractor would be required to set up this fabrication shop and also to ensure an adequate supply of coded welders. The best way to supply these welders would be for the EPCM contractor to recruit suitable candidates from the local communities and to train them under professional supervision in a welding and fabrication school at the site. These candidates would be guaranteed employment on the site after graduating from the school.

The nuclear vendor would be asked to gauge the degree to which the piping for the nuclear enclave also could be fabricated on the site.

It would not be in South Africa’s long-term interests for welders from overseas to be recruited for Thyspunt and to depart with their skills once the plant has been commissioned.

An early assignment for the EPCM contractor would be to survey the various routes to Thyspunt from the seaports, airports and inland. These routes would have to be assessed for the ability of any bridges to carry heavy loads, headroom below bridges, turning radii to accommodate heavy equipment on long trailers and clearances below overhead cables (which may have to be raised).

For the transport of heavy equipment over long distances suitable lay-bys along the routes would have to be provided for overnight stops. All these would require collaboration and liaison with the several municipalities along the proposed transportation routes.

David Milne is a professional engineer registered with the Engineering Council of South Africa and has been involved in the management of large projects in the mining, process and industrial sectors in South Africa and in China for over thirty years. He was a founding director and Fellow of the Southern African Project Controls Institute and is a Member of Project Management SA. He is a Member of the American Association of Cost Engineers. He has a PhD in chemical engineering from the University of the Witwatersrand (2008).

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