Fin24

Activists slate nuclear smelter plan

2012-10-11 14:22

Pretoria - The decontamination smelter mooted for construction by the Nuclear Energy Corporation of SA (Necsa) would cause far-reaching health hazards, environment activists said on Wednesday.

Public hearings were hosted in Centurion by the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) on the merits and demerits of building the proposed smelter.

Earthlife Africa's Judith Taylor said the smelter would significantly add to radiation levels in the atmosphere.

"That site is an apartheid-era legacy which they now want to make use of. We do not need to process those metals which we are not sure are clear of radiation," she said.

"South Africa's poorest are already reeling, affected by effects of radiation. Exposure of the general public to radiation is growing exponentially," said Taylor.

However, Necsa group executive Van Zyl de Villiers said the smelter was being mooted to dispose of the voluminous contaminated waste at Pelindaba, in Pretoria.

"The purpose of the smelter is to melt down, which means separating metals - steel and aluminium - from the uranium," said De Villiers.

"The decontaminated metal will be released and sold for re-use. The uranium is then concentrated in a controlled form which we can dispose of," he said.

"The melting technique would be efficient and environmentally friendly and has been specifically developed to decontaminate bulk metals," said De Villiers.

The agency noted the opposition to the R2m project, but called on the NNR to make a conclusion based on "facts and further risk analysis based on existing practices and scientific information".

De Villiers said radiation fears needed to be presented to the NNR in a proper context.

"For one to say all radiation is bad for humans, I am surprised we are still alive because we are radiated from natural causes daily. In that case we should then stop radiation treatment and medical X-rays".

Said De Villiers: "We need to make a proper risk-benefit analysis rather than being selective with particular scare-mongering tactics".

Around 14 000 tonnes of lightly uranium-contaminated ferrous and non-ferrous metals are stored at the Pelindaba site.

The material originated from the decommissioning of the uranium enrichment facilities at Pelindaba, according to Necsa.

It is part of Necsa's mandate to manage the material in accordance with internationally accepted norms.

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Comments
  • robbie.crouch - 2012-10-11 15:52

    The anti nuclear lobby are nuts...

  • J.Stephen.Whiteley - 2012-10-11 16:37

    It must be admitted that hardly anybody in this country knows much about radiation. This came out in a Department of Health review of 2010

  • judith.taylor.56 - 2012-11-01 14:41

    A number of significant facts are omitted here. NECSA could not guarantee that the treated metals would be radiation free. As they are to be sold to the scrap metal dealers, this is putting an unknown hazard into the market for re-use. In addition, the HEPA filters used to prevent emissions have been proved in the USA to do not such thing. They release minute particulate matter into the atmosphere which contains uranium. This can and will fall randomly into crops, rivers, humans and animals all over Africa. The US has closed down its smelters as a result of the hazards that have been observed. We are already subject to high levels of radiation and radioactive dust as a result of gold mining as the mine dumps contain uranium and other toxic substances. NECSA failed to deliver a sound business plan - they were unable to give any costings nor could they quantify the impacts. In the light of their apparent incompetence in these areas, I would be very reluctant to entertain their solution.

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