The hiring and firing of Peter Becker by Minister Mantashe has been covered extensively in the press recently. Becker was appointed to the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) Board to represent communities in June 2021, and fired for ‘misconduct’ in February 2022. Becker is in the process of challenging this in the Western Cape High Court, asking that the decision to remove him be reviewed and set aside.
The Minister and the NNR have until 10 May to produce the record of the decision. Despite this, the Minister recently issued a call for nominations to replace Becker. The deadline for nominations was 6 May.
In a speech in the Eastern Cape on 7 May, Mantashe is reported as saying that he will fire anyone on the NNR Board who does not advocate for nuclear power or ‘resists’ nuclear power. This appears to make it clear that anyone nominated must be someone who will ‘advocate’ for nuclear power, irrespective of the opinions of the communities they are appointed to represent.
Several organisations have rejected this process, and written to the Minister to explain why they will not be sending in nominations.
Mariette Liefferink, the CEO of the Federation For a Sustainable Environment, wrote “…it is our considered opinion that the dismissal of the former Board Member of the NNR, who represented civil society, namely Mr Peter Becker, was unlawful and that he must be re-instated.”
The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) has also refrained from participating. OUTA is primarily concerned with good governance and has previously expressed their concerns about the removal of Becker who was the NNR director representing communities. The organisation has also repeatedly called for more transparency in processes relating to the NNR. A request that they made under the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) for the NNR Board minutes of the meetings that Becker has been excluded from has been refused.
Francesca de Gasparis, the Executive Director of SAFCEI, told the Minister that the interfaith organisation rejects the call for nominations and will not participate. “…the dismissal of the incumbent director representing affected communities (Mr. P Becker) was flawed, and we note that the Minister’s decision to do so has been taken on High Court review by Mr Becker.
“SAFCEI is also concerned that Mr. Becker was dismissed at a time when the NNR is performing important regulatory functions relating to the proposed extension-of-life of the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station, and the negative impact this dismissal has had on transparency, oversight and accountability.”
This refers in part to the approval given by the NNR for the replacement of the Koeberg steam generators, which happened on the same day that Becker was initially suspended. These concerns were exacerbated when, despite the NNR approval, the French contractors subsequently refused to start work due to lack of preparation and safety concerns. This resulted in a penalty payable by Eskom estimated by the National Union of Mineworkers to be R1bn.
Project 90 by 2030 also did not take part in this nomination process. Lorna Fullter, the Director, wrote “Project 90 by 2030 will not participate in this process, which should be halted, due to the apparent unlawful dismissal of the civil society representative by Minister Mantashe which is now the subject of a High Court application.”
The letter also expressed concern about transparency and oversight at the regulator “relating to the proposed extension-of-life of the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station” and called for this nomination process to “be halted, due to the apparent unlawful dismissal of the civil society representative”.
Meanwhile, speaking to the ANC Eastern Cape provincial conference on Friday, Mantashe appeared to double down, saying that NNR Board members are expected to advocate for nuclear power. He said “If you resist nuclear… I will fire you, simple.” [https://youtu.be/Ox_k6-tR0FY?t=1383]
According to Becker, the Minister has “a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of the Regulator, the role of the Board’s directors, and the nature of their duties to the public” as he wrote in the court papers for his application to have his firing reviewed by the High Court.
That case is in progress, and the respondents have until 10 May to produce the record of the decision to discharge Becker. The Minister, via the State Attorney, has indicated he will oppose the application, and so this week Becker’s legal team will be requesting a date for the matter to be heard in the Western Cape High Court.
The Letter from Minister Mantashe inviting nominations: