On 18 March 2022, the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) announced that Dr. Mzubanzi Bismark Tyobeka had resigned as the Chief Executive Officer of the organisation. This resignation comes at a busy time for the NNR as it considers Eskom’s application to extend the life of Koeberg Nuclear Power Plant and the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy talks about procurement of 2500MW new nuclear by 2024.
Considering the implications, this resignation has raised questions from civil society.
On 16 March 2022, Peter Becker of Koeberg Alert Alliance (KAA) presented to a workshop organised by the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI) in the Northern Cape. SAFCEI and the KAA sometimes work together informally on matters that affect communities.
Community members wanted to understand more about how nuclear power works, and also how to learn more about the waste which is disposed of at Vaalputs.
Statement from the South African Faith Communities Environment Institute Released 4 March 2022
It has now been just over a week since Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe fired Peter Becker (on 25 February) – the community representative on the board of the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR), a position that is required by law – and many communities and civil society organisations are seething. Many feel that this dismissal implies, especially for those communities who live in the surrounding areas of Koeberg and near sites that government has earmarked for nuclear (such as Thyspunt), that their safety and their concerns about nuclear energy will either be silenced or will not effectively be dealt with.
According to Francesca de Gasparis, Executive Director at the Southern African Faith Communities’ Institute (SAFCEI), “This dismissal also sends the wrong message to current and future board members, who may not want to risk their position by speaking out about issues that concern them and those they represent. The role of the community representative on the Board is to represent communities when it comes to developments that could put their wellbeing and livelihoods at risk.”
After a long process which began in July 2021 Minister Mantashe provided reasons why he intended to fire the civil society representative on the Board of the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) on 16 February 2022. This was the first time the Minister had committed his reasons to paper, and it provided the first opportunity for Peter Becker, the suspended Board member, to respond to the allegations of misconduct that the Minister was making.
As part of the settlement, the Minister agreed to make a decision on whether or not to discharge the community representative, Peter Becker, by 15 February 2022. In the same settlement, the NNR agreed to suspend all decision making and meetings of the Board and subcommittees while the illegal suspension was in effect. This settlement agreement was made an order of the High Court. As it turned out, the Minister did not meet the deadline, and it is not know whether or not the NNR complied with the order.
On 17 February 2022 a small group of protesters representing civil society organisations gathered outside the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) offices in Tableview to protest the suspension and pending discharge of their representative on the NNR Board. There organisations represented included then Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute (SAFCEI), Project 90 by 2030, 350Africa.org, Koeberg Alert Alliance and the Federation for Sustainable Environment. Below are some photographs of the event, as well as the list of demands that was handed over.
Previous posts have described how Minister Mantashe suspended the Board member who was representing communities on the Board of the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR). This suspension had no basis in law, and to avoid an urgent court case set for 8 February 2022, a settlement was reached whereby Mantashe agreed to make a decision on whether or not to discharge the Board member by 15 February. Despite this settlement agreement being made an order of the court, Mantashe failed to do so. However, on 15 February he finally laid out his reasons for intending to discharge the Board member. The full letter is included below.
Six months after appointing a Board member to the Board of National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) in order to represent affected communities, Minister Mantashe unlawfully suspended Peter Becker on 18 January 2022. He has been a vocal campaigner against nuclear power in South Africa for about 12 years, and when Mantashe appointed him in June 2021 it was widely welcomed as an enlightened step. According to the NNR Act of 1999, the NNR Board also includes a member from the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE), well known for a very pro-nuclear stance.
It has since emerged that on the same day of the letter, 18 January 2022, Eskom received approval from the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) to go ahead with the replacement of the first three steam generators at Koeberg.
It is a peculiar coincidence that based on a legal opinion delivered in early October 2021, the Minister happened to write the suspension letter on the day the NNR approved this major project, which is a key component of Eskom’s plan to extend the life of the ageing plant by twenty years.