Brain Drain: SA’s Eskom Loses Top Nuclear Exec to Canada


South Africa’s embattled power utility has today announced that its Chief Nuclear Officer, Riedewaan Bakardien, has resigned from the company to emigrate to Canada and serve in an “executive position” in a Canadian nuclear utility.

Bakardien is expected to depart Eskom on 31 July 2022, at the end of his notice period. His role as Chief Nuclear Officer will be filled by Keith Featherstone in an acting capacity while recruitment processes to find a new Chief Nuclear Officer are carried through.

According to Eskom, Featherstone has over 30 years of nuclear experience and previously served as the manager of Koeberg Power Station.

“As the only nuclear power station in Africa, we have all played a role in keeping the [Koeberg] plant safe, and the best place to work. The decision to resign was, therefore, by no means an easy decision,” says Bakardien.

According to his LinkedIn, Bakardien has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering, a post-graduate Diploma in Management from the University of Cape Town, and more than 27 years of experience as an engineer within and without the nuclear field.

He will join the thousands of other skilled and experienced South Africans who have emigrated or are hoping to emigrate this year. According to a 2022 study, 11.13% of South Africans with higher education indicated that they were “seriously considering” emigrating to another country in the next two years.

For most of the South Africans emigrating, ‘better economic opportunities’ was noted as by far and away the most important reason. It is also notable that a large amount of South Africans (6.32%) in the study were considering emigrating to Canada.

The country has dealt with the crisis of “brain drain” since the fall of the apartheid government in 1994, with many highly trained and experienced South Africans pursuing better economic opportunities as well as the benefits of a stable economy and social system present in many developed nations.

As South Africa’s stability and economy continue to decline, the number of highly skilled South Africans leaving will only increase especially if there are developed countries looking for their skills.

Management Shakeup at Koeberg Nuclear Power Station

The departure of Bakardien has left a vacuum that Eskom is eager to fill. The utility says it intends to fill both the positions of Power Station General Manager and Chief Nuclear Officer “as soon as possible.”

It says that Koeberg’s current acting General Manager, Nomawethu Mtwebana, will be joining the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) in Atlanta, US, for the next year as a reserve loanee.

Mtwebana is set to depart on a learning excursion to the US and will be “a peer reviewer, reviewing performance at various plants in the United States during her time at WANO. [She] will then bring this learning experience back to Koeberg.”

In her stead, Mahesh Valaitham, a long-standing Senior Manager with over 27 years of nuclear plant experience, will be filling the role of Koeberg’s acting Power Station General Manager.

Jan Oberholzer, COO of Eskom, wants to assure South Africans that Africa’s only nuclear power plant continues to be safe and in good hands.

“I wish to assure the people of South African and fellow Guardians at Eskom that the organisation has access to a sufficiently experienced and competent executive team to continue ensuring a safe and smooth operation at Africa’s only power station,” he says.

South Africans have been forced to live through Eskom’s continued barrage of load-shedding for 73 days on and off since the beginning of the year, and while the utility says it plans to lift load-shedding within the next 10 days there is no permanent solution in sight.

By Luis Monzon
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