National nuclear control centre now in place

Other nuclear examples

nuclear logoAs a result of the Fukushima nuclear experience, R12m has been provided by the state to upgrade the emergency nuclear control centre under the control of the national nuclear regulator (NNR) to “state of the art” levels.

Further sums are to be allocated for upgrading laboratories for independent analysis and verification, including linkages to weather services. The Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa (NECSA) was reporting to Parliament on its annual budget vote, during which this was reported. At that stage, Minister of Energy, Dipuo Peters, had not pronounced that South Africa was to proceed with its “New Build” nuclear programme.

NNR comes up with a plan

In the last briefing on energy strategy plans for year 2012/3 from various state utilities presented to Parliament this year, both the national nuclear regulator’s office (NNR) and NECSA came before the portfolio committee on energy and both detailed their mandates, providing parliamentarians with detailed expenditure for the coming year.

NNR provided a list of safety performance measures that were in place in South Africa and those being developed but neither institutions would indicate anything regarding the possibility of developments in the area of the now named “New Build” nuclear programme for South Africa.

Nuclear watch

The acting regulator, NNR, Thabo Tselane said “Major inspections of nuclear facilities are being increased from five annually to nearly thirty and we have the inspectors for nuclear plant and mines, the increases being driven by IEAE plans and other international obligations. We have seventeen borderline mines which are constantly being monitored; the monitoring being based on the potential increase for danger not the actual levels of danger to living in the nearby areas.”

Tselane said that as far as the funding of the regulator is concerned, a new model which will be adequate to meet growing costs has been devised and a draft, approved by the NNR board, proposes that the state contributes 32% for the regulator’s operations, whilst the industry carries the remaining 68%.

On the New Build Programme, Tselane said that the NNR will take their cue from decision makers but they had nothing to do with any recommendations to go ahead or not with any nuclear development.

Training key issue

Phumzile Tshelane, CEO of NECSA, referred to the National Development Plan and NECSA’s critical role in medical radioisotopes and the training of 442 in apprenticeships in their training centre. NECSA had completed a report showing the status of local uranium reserves and how these resources can be beneficiated locally.

During the year NECSA supported the Ketlaphela project to manufacture ingredients for ARV manufacture in dealing with HIV patients. This had been a major scientific achievement internationally involving a company called Pelchem.  The project was now handed over the department of science and technology but NECSA still remained doing the major project development.

Good at isotopes

Achievements during the year were in the area of NTP Radioisotopes Ltd, the SAFARI-1 reactor upgrades and the work achieved by the NECSA MTR fuel department in maintaining a strong position in the worldwide isotope market.   Tshelane also detailed extensive international collaboration work, such as undertakings with the Test Ban Treaty Organisation by establishing a monitoring station in the Western Cape and a number of other IAEA obligations.

Also collaboration has been taking place with various Australian bodies in nuclear science.

NECSA continued with its feasibility study to replace SAFARI 1 with SAFARI-2 so there was a proper overlap and therefore no operational hiatus occurs as has happened in so many countries, he said.

Equipment gets older

However, risks for NECSA still remained as ageing equipment and infrastructure, as well as lack of production plant availability. Business sustainability challenges and extremely tough global market conditions will require external funding for commercial projects in the future. Government financial support for NECSA is slowly decreasing, Tshelane said.

Questions from members involved the actual point at which NECSA could become a liability to the taxpayer despite its hard work in selling radioisotopes, developing ARV therapeutical medicines and support to skills training and hospital radiotherapy equipment. Members wanted to know if NECSA was really just treading water until the nuclear “New Build” programme became a possibility, even if this only partially involved them.

Pebble bed exercise valuable

Tshelane said his main concern was that NECSA was the only nuclear research body in South Africa and had the technological expertise on coated nuclear systems learnt in the pebble bed exercise which still remains a valuable technological resource and should be exploited. Generally, no country involved to the present degree that South Africa was in the nuclear field could do without a “NECSA”, he said.

On staff losses, he said that young qualified people tended to follow “trends” such as computer technology in the ‘eighties whilst the “buzz” in the ‘nineties was pebble bed nuclear. Now, with nothing happening in nuclear in SA, any young scientist does not see much future in nuclear and often go to construction, go overseas, or find another technology outlet indeed there has been a vacuum in nuclear science. However, he could see change.

Strategic partner?

NECSA had originally 8,000 staff but now has 2,000 but all equipment is been maintained because it might be needed in the future. There was a point, however, where if NECSA became too commercially driven, because it received insufficient funding from the state, it would start ignoring some very important avenues of research which were not necessarily profitable commercially and this would be bad.

Tshelane concluded that a recent move to increase security and improve vigilance to avoid breaches of security in a business had been undertaken. He was aware that nuclear sites often became the focus for exhibitionists with causes.
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