10 August 2010
Having put the public at risk by failing for decades to address the radioactive Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) seeping into our drinking water, the Pelindaba Working Group is astounded that the National Nuclear Regulator has recently employed the services of a branding agent to “create a positive public image” and now also pleads poverty over funding a single meeting with key civic stakeholders.
The NNR has come under attack for failing abysmally as a regulator and unsuccessfully trying to put a lid on the growing problems of radioactive acid water threat to rivers, farming and drinking water[i]. It also dismisses growing public concern over the stock-piling of radioactive waste and radiotoxic releases into the Crocodile River at Pelindaba and the Atlantic Ocean at Koeberg among other sites.
The performance of the NNR should be judged on their fulfilment of their fiduciary function, namely to protect the public, property and the environment from nuclear damage. To protect their image is an inappropriate triviality which is of very little importance in comparison to the more serious alleged failures of the NNR.
NNR regulates the entire fuel cycle and is beholden to the nuclear industry
The NNR currently regulates the entire nuclear fuel cycle from uranium mine exploration to decommissioning and radioactive waste.
The public have a right to know what is being spent on at least the one branding agent – Zanusi Brand Solutions – whose employees falsely identified their company as “Zanusi Grand Solutions” to solicit an interview from nuclear monitor groups and then failed to phone back. Zanusi lists DEAT and the SABC among their other illustrious clients.
In 2008, erstwhile Minister Alec Erwin squandered over R4m taxpayer funds by employing FreedThinkers to give nukes a “make-over” and to “turn anti-nuke activists into pro-nuke ambassadors” in his desperate bid to save the discredited PBMR nuclear white elephant. It seems the nuclear industry will stop at nothing to promote this industry against all odds. And, pro-nuclear propaganda in South Africa is set to intensify and be funded by taxpayers starting at schools.
NNR has addition marketing study running
To make matters worse, a second NNR-sponsored “tracking study” is being simultaneously conducted by JGR Marketing Resources which has for years been paid to report on “levels of satisfaction amongst its key stakeholders”. None of these reports were ever made public.
Neither company knew about the other. Neither company followed through on their planned interviews and showed more interest in views over the NNR’s logo, for example, than views over NNR’s handling of radiological issues.
Yet in February this year the NNR asked about 50 civil society groups for “an engagement meeting” and for discussion items, and indeed the NNR budget reflects substantial funding – almost R13 million or 10% of its budget – requested for “stakeholder management”.
To date the NNR has failed to respond to a growing list of questions and concerns that directly impact on public safety in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria from past and existing nuclear activities – past and present – from public groups and this week finally turned down a request for a mere scaled-down R6, 000 after months of negotiation to bring civil society stakeholders together for the meeting.
Why is critical information on failures of the NNR Act being withheld?
Stakeholders had also asked the NNR to provide details of a thought provoking talk by NNR senior lawyer Rodney Elk on the NNR’s legal challenges and difficulties with reference to the implementation of the National Nuclear Regulator Act.
The cotton-wool approach
This initiative is now in jeopardy as the NNR pleads poverty and suggests it meets with stakeholders individually which appears to have begun despite talks about national talks. This is nothing less than anti participatory ploy or cotton-wool approach similar to that used by the consultants on nuclear Environmental Studies to whitewash public sentiment.
Stakeholder groups are situated at each of the five coastal regions earmarked for nuclear reactors, as well as Hartbeespoort, Koeberg and the Namaqualand, site of South Africa’s nuclear waste dump. In addition, Gauteng and North West host NECSA and most of the uranium mines.
Pelindaba Working Group is aware that the NNR holds lavish pro-nuclear related conferences at upmarket venues that exclude civil stakeholders and spares no cost on the travel expenses of its executives – over R5,5m in 2008/9 and forecast at R7,640,080 in the 2011/12 financial year.
The NNR derives its income by issuing nuclear authorisations. This compromises its ability to be an independent regulator, as opposing the granting of licences will impact directly on its ability to continue. A body set up, with an independent funding model similar to the Water Research Council, would be more appropriate.
NNR lacks skills & is has missing funds
Its own annual reports reflect a dire shortage of skills and know-how at the NNR, while media reports and labour disputes indicate that significant funds have gone missing from its coffers.
The NNR has blatantly ignored requests by affected communities for critical information, including details on abnormal discharges of radioactive gases from Pelindaba emergencies, nuclear liability insurances, as well as the issuing of authorisations to hazardous nuclear vessels in our coastal waters and ports without at least requesting that our Mother City and her residents and businesses is insured against a potential nuclear disaster.
Last week residents around Pelindaba again reported hearing loud sirens but these were dismissed by the NNR and the Nuclear Energy Corporation as a “possible hoax” or someone else’s siren.
What of the legacy of nuclear waste stockpiles in South Africa?
The nuclear/radiotoxic legacy of this country is long standing. Its most toxic impact is through radioactive acid water from mines throughout Gauteng, North West, Limpopo and Mpumalanga. However, the impact of stockpiles of nuclear waste over the coming centuries is part of that legacy and cannot be assessed. World-wide studies are pointing strongly to the danger presented by such waste to future generations, who may not understand the labelling because of the shifts in language alone.
It is imperative for this country to have a strong nuclear regulator, particularly in the face of new legislation which recently exonerated the Department of Environmental Affairs from dealing with environmental radioactivity – even in Environmental Impact Assessments. Instead law now places this duty solely at the door of the NNR, where such studies cannot be funded and would be retrospective to the granting of the Record of Decision. Additionally, the NNR lacks capacity to do anything more than to acquiesce to all nuclear developments. This is clearly untenable as it puts communities at risk and, by default, forces the NNR to grant the licence.
Informed of the failures and inadequacies of the NNR, the EIA consultants Arcus Gibb reply that it is not their responsibility to assess the competence of the NNR.
South Africans need to awaken to the potentially dire consequences for generations to come of a weak[ii], corrupt[iii], incapable and inept[iv] regulator if nuclear expansion in South Africa is to be pursued, and indeed even if it does not.
PELINDABA WORKING GROUP
083 740 4676
CANE – Gauteng / Northwest Province
Earthlife Africa Joburg
082 389 3481
[i] Refer to recent expose by Carte Blanche “Acid Water”, 1 Aug 2010, http://beta.mnet.co.za/carteblanche/Article.aspx?Id=4057&ShowId=1 . See also www.fse.org.za
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