Nuclear Regulator finally appoints a civil society representative

At a Cabinet Meeting held on 21 April 2021, the addition of a civil society representative to the board of the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) was finally announced.

The NNR board has been without a civil society representative since August 2020 flouting compliance with the NNR Act. According to several organisations, this lack of representation has contributed to weakened governance at the NNR whose role is to ensure nuclear safety in South Africa, particularly at Koeberg Nuclear Power Plant (Koeberg).

Appointment is welcomed but overdue
The new board member, Koeberg Alert Alliance’s (KAA) spokesperson, Peter Becker, says, “The NNR board has been without a civil society representative for nearly nine months and while this announcement is welcome, it is long overdue. Civil society is an essential part of oversight for government and this is a step towards ensuring the NNR applies the highest international safety standards to nuclear installations in South Africa, and the Koeberg plant in particular.

“Eskom’s planned 20 year life extension for Koeberg as well as the proposed new nuclear build fall under the remit of the NNR and I look forward to collaborating with various organisations to ensure that civil society’s voice is heard,” Becker says.

Response from civil society organisations
Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) Parliamentary Advisor, Liz McDaid, welcomed the appointment. “The NNR is a key oversight body that must ensure that South Africans are protected from toxic nuclear radiation,” she says.
“The NNR Act dictates that the board must have a civil society representative, but when the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE), Gwede Mantashe, appointed the board in August 2020, he failed to appoint anyone. OUTA and other civil society organisations objected and actively lobbied the DMRE to appoint a civil society representative from one of the organisations who is active in the nuclear watchdog role and thereby also becoming compliant with governing legislation,” says McDaid.

“Earthlife Africa welcomes the long overdue appointment of ordinary citizens on the board of the NNR,” says Earthlife director, Makoma Lekalakala. “We hope that with this inclusion provides much needed citizens oversight on issues that are of most concern particularly expansion of nuclear energy and uranium mining.”

Concerns to be raised about radioactive seafood from Fukushima nuclear disaster
Ten years after the disastrous nuclear meltdown at Fukushima in Japan where three reactor cores exploded releasing the highest amount of radioactivity into the environment since the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, authorities are still cleaning up. Currently approximately 150 tonnes of water contaminated with radioactive material is produced each day and hundreds of tanks surround the nuclear plant in Daiichi containing 1.24 million tonnes of radioactive water.

Japanese authorities have decided that they will release more than 1 million tonnes of this contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean, a move that is strongly opposed by its neighbours China who have called it “extremely irresponsible”.

“We are also concerned at the lack of testing of imported seafood for radioactivity, especially in light of the planned release of water contaminated with radioactive material from the Fukushima plant in Japan,” says Becker. “Hopefully as a NNR board member, I will be able to motivate the NNR to fulfill its mandate and install testing facilities to protect the South African consumer from radioactive seafood imports, which is not currently being done.”

Appointment a step towards transparency in SA’s nuclear industry
Becker has invited other civil society organisations to get in touch so that appropriate concerns can be taken to the NNR board and that report back sessions can be arranged.

He also welcomed the appointment as a welcome step towards a much needed increase in the transparency of the nuclear industry in South Africa.

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