Pretoria - Lanseria residents north west of Johannesburg are resisting the idea of a decontamination smelter in their area, the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) heard on Wednesday.
They had put their objections in writing to stop the plan of Nuclear Energy Corporation of SA (Necsa), community representative Thuli Dube said.
She handed a bundle of around 200 petitions signed by disgruntled residents to Thiagan Pather, a manager responsible for nuclear technology and waste projects at the NNR, during a public hearing session on the mooted smelter.
"The 'forgotten community of Lanseria' feels very bad about this whole project. To start with, we were not informed about this event (the consultation process)," said Dube.
"I heard the NNR person (Pather) saying they invited people through newspapers. Why can't they understand that we are a disadvantaged, struggling community?" she asked.
The public hearings were hosted in Centurion by the NNR to solicit input from the public on the merits and demerits of building the proposed smelter at Pelindaba, in Pretoria.
"We have done our research and have concluded that this smelter will harm us. Our health and environment takes priority," she said.
"We are against this thing (smelter). These people need to come up with a solution and avoid polluting our area," said Dube.
Earlier, Earthlife Africa - an environmental and anti-nuclear organisation - said the smelter would cause far-reaching health hazards even beyond South Africa's borders.
Johannesburg co-ordinator for the civic organisation, 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.
Several activists made presentations to a NNR panel. Other activists sent written objections to the project.
However, Necsa group executive Van Zyl de Villiers said the smelter was being mooted to dispose of the voluminous contaminated waste at Pelindaba.
"The purpose of the smelter is to melt down, which means separating metals - steel and aluminium - from the uranium," said De Villiers.
"The de-contaminated 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 had been specifically developed to de-contaminate bulk metals," said De Villiers.
The agency noted the opposition to the R20m 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 fears of radiation 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".
"We need to make a proper risk-benefit analysis rather than being selective with particular scare-mongering tactics," said De Villiers.
Around 14 000 tons 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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