National Nuclear Regulator on relocation of Tudor Shaft Informal Settlement from mine dump contaminated with nuclear radioactive material

Energy

28 February 2011
Chairperson: Mr S. Njikelana (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The National Nuclear Regulator reported on the status of the relocation of residents living on the contaminated Tudor Shaft and the surrounding mine dump. Information was given about the Tudor Shaft and the informal settlement located within the Mogale City municipality. Civil society had informed the National Nuclear Regulator about the existence of shack dwellings on tailings material. The NNR had tested the site and found higher than background radiation levels. Though this fell well within NNR safety margins, a more rigorous and comprehensive study had been advised. They explained that they sought to engage all affected stakeholders to provide a coherent and comprehensive intervention in the area. This would entail the relocation of some 41 families; seven of whom had already been moved.
The potential hazards came from a multitude of possibilities: from radioactive dust, radon gas exposure to children playing with or even ingesting uraniferous tailings. There were other hazards in the area such as open mine shafts and contaminated wetlands at risk of flooding. The NNR needed to ensure protective action be taken to ensure members of the public did not get exposed to excessive levels of radiation. At the same time it did not want to be disruptive to members of the public or to make displaced people more socially disadvantaged than before.  They had already acted by giving information to people in the form of pamphlets addressing basic issues of safety in different languages.
The discussion focused on the work done by the National Nuclear Regulator, but also on the safety of the contaminated sites and their accessibility. The Committee wanted to know if anyone within the mining industry could be held accountable or if the state had to foot the bill. The Committee was satisfied with the National Nuclear Regulator’s work.

Meeting report

National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) Report on Tudor Shaft Informal Settlement
Advisor Boyce Mkhize, NNR CEO, along with his colleague Senior Manager, Orion Phillips, reported on the current situation of the residents at the Tudor Shaft, their scientific findings as well as their suggestions for future protective measures. The report covered the following topics:
▪ Information on the Tudor Shaft and surrounding area, as well as the informal settlement.
▪ The role of the NNR.
▪ Details of the studies conducted in the area by the NNR
▪ Current status of the Informal Settlement.
▪ Potential Health Effects.
▪ Control Measures for radioactive materials.
▪ Other hazards in the area.
▪ Plan of Action for the NNR.
▪ Other important considerations.
[See document for details.]

Discussion
Mr K Moloto (ANC) asked if the NNR was satisfied with the security measures that had been put in place by the mine owners to restrict easy access to the area. If not, had they been in touch with the previous owners and would the miner owners be compelled to bear the costs of any action that had to be undertaken.

In terms of security measures, Advisor Mkhize said that the challenge was to pin down these derelict sites as belonging to or having belonged to any particular entity or individual that may have been responsible for the mining. Further, there was no active mining in that region now, and had not been for a number of years, and with degradation, time and environment it became almost impossible to trace who is at fault. In any such open site or open source, government must inevitably come in to deal with it and to protect its people.

Mr L Greyling (ID) asked if the role of the NNR could be considered more reactive or proactive as it seemed to him that the NNR only acted after being alerted by civil society. Had the NNR looked at the report done by Dr Christopher Busby and questioned their own research methods and how they operated in these environments. Also he asked what instruments they used for their studies. Finally, should there perhaps be done an epidemiological study of the area to better ascertain the health effects on the population.

The NNR was very proactive with regards to how it handled its mandate Advisor Mkhize assured the Committee. However he reminded the members of the Committee that given the resource constraints and capacity issues it was difficult for the NNR to be all over the country, a country he said, that was quite vast. They were just an organisation of 96 people and had to at times react to information and issues brought to them from civil society and others. When it came to the work of Dr Christopher Busby, who worked out of the United Kingdom, and provided input and raised opinions on a number of issues. Dr Christopher Busby got hold of the NNR report and after analysing it came to different conclusion than the NNR had. However it had to be mentioned that he used a foreign and different methodology than the platform used by the NNR, which uses the standards of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). His standards, based on some European Commission platform, did not correlate to the one used by the NNR. As for the instruments used, they were the types of instruments that were highly regarded internationally. The Advisor was not sure if he could comment on an epidemiological study as that fell into the purview of the Department of Health, however through the cooperation agreements the NNR had with the Department of Health it might be a possibility they would want to consider.

Mr P. Dexter (COPE) asked if the NNR had identified any other similar sites around the country that posed a potential danger to people, and was there a future plan for how to deal with nuclear waste. Did the NNR have any recommendations as how to deal with what seemed to be inevitable consequences of these industries; toxic pollution, and how to avoid that government was always left to clean up and pay the tab.

Advisor Mkhize said that there were other such sites of concern, however they were located in the East Rand, not the West Rand like the Tudor Shaft. After a system to deal with this situation had been established they would move on to the East Rand sites and deal with them. A Nuclear Waste Institute had been established and was in the process of being formerly commissioned, it was a process being managed by the Department of Energy. The NNR hoped that it would be within the framework of this institution that waste disposal would be handled in the future. The NNR was also of the opinion, and held it as a practise that the polluter pays, which meant that any operation that produced waste would have to be cleaned up by the producer, and where they could pin down who that was they would pass on the cleanup bill to them.

Senior Manager Orion Phillips wanted to add on cleanup of radioactive waste, the Department of Energy had issued a very robust and well made bill on the subject which had been taken to the IAEA in Vienna, who had lauded the Department on their work.

Mr. S Motau (DA) wondered how serious the problem was, and if people were concerned and getting sick what had triggered this concern that lead them to eventually raise the alarm. He asked if it was within the NNR’s mandate to move people and communities that lived in hazardous areas, and if not how would they go forward with this. The families that had already been moved, were they in a safe area or were it still in the same risk environment, and if so why move them at all. Similarly, the people that moved due to the floods, would they be allowed to move back to the dangerous environment when the water cleared or would they be hindered for their own safety.

The Advisor said that the NNR had no reason to either overstate or hold back information on the seriousness of the problem; they had been as honest and straight forward as they could. He was not aware of anyone raising the issue or contacting the NNR on account of getting sick; they had been contacted by civil society and done a survey of local’s health, albeit a small one, and found no sickness. The NNR could not issue orders or direct local municipalities to move populations; they could only recommend actions as they had done in this instance. They did however have a cooperative and collegial relationship with the municipalities.

Ms N. Mabedla (ANC) asked what was being done for the families that had not been moved yet, and had the health of the former mineworkers been checked to see long term effects.
As for the former mineworkers, the Advisor could not say, similarly the issues of contamination had not been picked up earlier for a variety of reasons, mostly due to time and lack of oversight and regulation back when the mine had been operational.

Ms N. Mathibela (ANC) wanted to know if the toxic dumps and open mine shafts would be fenced off to avoid easy access by people. How far away would people be moved, and did they work with the local municipalities.

Advisor Mkhize said that these areas of high risk had to be labelled as dangerous, warning signs had to be placed and most importantly they must be cordoned off as soon as possible to avoid the challenges that can arise from such unprotected sites. The first priority had been to get the families out of the immediate threat zone and to get them away from dangers such as flooding. They would then look into medium and long term solutions for how and where to relocate people. The remaining families were engaging with the city municipalities in terms how relocation terms and details; this was a process that the NNR was not necessarily privy to. Should the remaining families refuse to move the city municipalities would have to make certain decisions; for example to obtain court ordered evacuations, though he admitted this could prove challenging to go through with.

The Chairperson wanted the NNR to elaborate on the question of Dr Busby’s report. Further, had they worked with other Departments on this issue as it crossed several Department fields of responsibility.

Advisor Mkhize answered that they had what was called cooperative agreements, which was set up with various entities and government bodies that at least ought to interact with the NNR on an ongoing basis. So, from time to time they would have meetings on common interest emanating from the cooperative agreements they had set up.

Senior Manager Orion Phillips added that they had been made aware of Dr Busby’s report; they had copies of his documents as well as his references. What they had been able to gather was that his model was not endorsed by the international community, however they did not say that the report did not have any sense in it, but the NNR was a member of the IAEA and his model did not support it in terms of its rigour. The model used by the IAEA had withstood the test of time and was based on years of research. As for Dr Busby’s comments that whole body measures should be used, the NNR had looked into that as well. The method was internationally recognised, however the NNR had wished to use caution when testing. The instrumentation they used had been certified, calibrated, provided accurate results and were robust enough to withstand the rigorous environment. The instruments used were also the ones used by other regulators as well as mining companies.

Mr Dexter did not feel he got a clear answer on other potential hazardous sites; could they elaborate on where they were, and if there was information about the subject that could be obtained.

Advisor Mkhize said that they were constructing a robust methodology of how to deal with the sites and would apply that to the other sites as soon as possible, however there were limitations to how quickly this could be done due to resources and the sheer size of the surface area.

The Chairperson wanted to know how difficult it was for the NNR to work with other resources and institutions such as universities, municipalities or the mining communities. And he asked if the information of where mining had taken place was not readily available.

Mr Dexter suggested that the NNR notify and post or register where these hazardous sites where located so that the public could be kept informed and so the Committee could keep an eye on it. .

The Advisor said that as he had indicated, the East Rand was a particular area of concern that had not even been addressed yet. However the NNR was quite confident that the East Rand was next in line to be handled by them, and they would be setting up mechanism to actually address that. He also confirmed that in most case one knew where mining had been done, and what they particularly was looking for here was gold mining where issues such as Radon gas came in. The NNR would be looking into how it could provide precautionary measures, and the Advisor said that the Honourable Dexter’s idea could be a good idea for the NNR to look at and take forward. They also worked quite closely with a number of institutions of higher learning and universities; they used professors and had a very live cooperation with universities in terms of research and consultation. Of course he admitted that the NNR had to build up its internal capacity as external consultants could never replace in-house expertise. A healthy balance had to be acquired. They also worked with the Chamber of Mining in addressing some of these problems particularly those relating to the safety of persons and the environment.

Mr Motau wanted to draw some attention to the wetlands and the people living there, especially as they were often the most contaminated areas.

Mr Greyling wanted to know what the responsibility of the Chamber of Mining, would they help to find assign responsible for some of these past damages and contaminations, as it was unfair that the state should be left to pick up the entire bill of 100 years of mining.

Advisor Mkhize said that the Chamber of Mining had responded with sympathy if not necessarily with empathy. They had reacted with caution and wanted the NNR to have certain proof of responsibility before they would act at all. They had not given up on the issue, but they did face a challenge with regards to the legacy of non regulation.

Katse Maphotot, Director at the Department of Energy added for the Department that they were proactively engaged to make sure that all nuclear sites had their own disaster management plans according to the Disasters Management Act. He admitted that it was a problem that these toxic mines dumps were abandoned and claimed by no one. Perhaps the solution could be that the Department and the municipalities could be given the oversight over these locations so that they were prepared in cases of disaster or contamination to step in and manage the situation.

The Chairperson commended the NNR for its efforts, reaction and coordination. He also wanted them to provide both the NNR and Dr. Christopher Busby reports for the Committee. He also bade them to bear in mind that peoples health was at stake so he hoped they would make haste with their work. Again he commended the NNR, but reminded them that the Committee was watching them.

The Chairperson dismissed the NNR and Department representative.

The Chairperson moved the Committee onwards to deal with the Minutes only to discover that as Mr. Dexter had left the Committee during the discussion they no longer possessed a quorum. He stressed that all documents should be circulated for the next meeting.

The meeting was concluded.






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