Agreement between RSA & European Atomic Energy Community: Department briefing
Mineral Resources and Energy
19 February 2020
Chairperson: Mr S Luzipo (ANC)
The Committee was briefed by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy on the agreement between the Republic of South Africa and the European Atomic Energy Community for co-operation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. An apology from the Minister was noted. The presentation highlighted the purpose of the agreement and the areas of co-operation between the parties. These may include the following:
- Research and development in the field of nuclear energy;
- The use of nuclear materials and technologies;
- The transfer of nuclear materials and equipment;
- Nuclear safeguards; and
- Nuclear safety, radioactive waste and spent fuel management, decommissioning, radiation protection including emergency preparedness and response.
The strategic importance of the agreement is to lay the foundation of cooperation between the parties in the field of nuclear energy for peaceful uses. The agreement includes countries, such as France and Belgium, who have structures in place to deal with the management of radioactive waste. South Africa is currently developing a Fund Bill for this. The Department has consulted with government bodies, legal bodies and state owned entities during the negotiations of the agreement. South Africa still needs to complete its internal procedures necessary for ratification. The Department recommends that the agreement be approved by Parliament.
Members asked when the development fund can be expected, what the provision of nuclear fuel cycle services means, more explanation on France and Belgium and what the agreement means for South Africa in relation to other superpowers such as Korea and America. Members raised concern that they did not have a copy of the agreement before them and couldn’t adequately comment on it. The Chairperson postponed the meeting so that members have time to study the document properly before any discussion with the Department.
The Committee adopted its minutes with amendments. Members discussed the issue of Lily, Koornfontein and Optimum mines, the Northam community, PetrolSA and the issue of radioactive waste in the Northern Cape. The Committee decided that it will not split into groups when it conducts oversight visits.
The Chairperson welcomed Members of the Committee and officials of the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) to the meeting. An apology from the Minister was noted. There is a constitutional requirement that before international agreements can be finalised by the Committee, it requires the attention of Parliament and the National Council of Provinces. This is the first step in the process.
The Chairperson spoke in isiZulu from 1:36 to 2:26.
Briefing by the Department
Mr Thabane Zulu, Director-General: DMRE, greeted Members of the Committee and thanked the Chairperson for inviting the Department to the meeting. The presentation will provide background information on the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM) agreement, the strategic importance and benefits of being a member state to the agreement, the implementation plan and recommendations. He asked for the officials to begin the presentation.
Mr Zizamele Mbambo, Deputy Director-General: Nuclear Energy: DMRE, said the main purpose of the agreement is to further expand and deepen the mutual beneficial economic, scientific and technical cooperation between South Africa and EURATOM. These may include research and development in the field of nuclear energy, the use of nuclear materials and technologies, the transfer of nuclear materials and equipment, nuclear safeguards and radioactive waste. South Africa is the leading producer of radioactive isotopes. The forms of cooperation may include the provision of nuclear fuel cycle services, supply of nuclear and non-nuclear materials, establishment of working groups and the exchange of experts and scientific information.
Mr Mbambo said the strategic importance of the agreement is to create the foundation for the cooperation between South Africa and EURATOM in the field of nuclear energy for peaceful uses. The agreement includes countries, such as France and Belgium, who have structures in place to deal with the management of radioactive waste, such as having a fund. South Africa is currently developing a Fund Bill. The Department has consulted widely with government and state owned entities to make sure the needs of stakeholders are taken into account during the negotiations of the agreement. The Department has also consulted with legal bodies to ensure compliance with the South African law and international law. On the implementation plan, EURATOM have completed its internal procedures and are ready to begin negotiations on the administrative arrangements. South Africa still needs to complete its internal procedures necessary for ratification. On recommendations, it is recommended that Parliament approves the agreement.
Mr Zulu thanked Mr Mbambo for leading the presentation. The agreement should not be confused with the existing International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which South Africa is a member of. South Africa is the only country in the continent that has nuclear facilities and there are obligations that the country must follow. South Africa has been doing very well in terms of compliance.
Ms C Phillips (DA) thanked the Department for its presentation. When can the development fund be expected?
Mr K Mileham (DA) said he did not have a copy of the agreement before him. Members should have time to read the document in order to comment on it. This is a flaw in the process. On the supply of nuclear and non-nuclear materials, equipment and related technologies, what does this mean? What is meant by the provision of nuclear fuel cycle services? Can the Department provide more explanation on France and Belgium. What is the purpose that the fund intends to achieve? On the construction of a nuclear disposal site, does Finland intend on building a new one? Was the nuclear regulator consulted?
Mr M Wolmarans (ANC) welcomed the presentation. Where does the agreement leave South Africa and its nuclear environment with other superpowers such as Korea and America?
Mr M Mahlaule (ANC) agreed with Mr Mileham and said members do not have the document before them. The nuclear agreement is important so members need time to go and study it.
The Chairperson said the email sent to members included attachments such as the agreement and the Committee minutes dated 11 February 2020. There are challenges because there are so many attachments and the agreement was in the form of a letter. Only after opening the letter, one could see the agreement. Members will not be forced to debate on the agreement. If the meeting is postponed, it is not going to be on the actual schedule of the Committee. He allowed the postponement and requested the Department to respond to questions already asked.
Mr Zulu replied that the technical issues will be dealt with. On the superpowers issue, South Africa entered into different sets of agreements with different organisations so that the country complies with international obligations. Agreements were entered into with countries such as Russia and Japan. When South Africa wanted to introduce a nuclear programme, the Department went on an international roadshow to interact with countries. All of the countries mentioned were consulted and some agreements were concluded. The Department will provide some of the documents to the Committee.
Mr Mbambo replied that South Africa already has nuclear facilities that use nuclear fuel. The country does not produce nuclear fuel so it is imported from different countries. The supply is provided by countries in EURATOM. The fabrication and low enrichment uranium received from France is used as a mixture in South Africa’s nuclear plants for fuel purposes. South Africa supplies more than 60 countries in the world with radio isotopes. On the fund issue, the countries highlighted in the presentation already have a fund that acts as a mechanism for long term sustainability for funding radioactive waste. The Department is in the process of establishing a Fund Bill and is consulting various stakeholders to ensure there is long term funding. The Department can draw some lessons from the countries that have already set up these funds. On consultations, it is standard practice for the Department to consult all relevant nuclear entities in South Africa. The Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) will also be consulted.
Mr Mbambo said the construction of the disposal site in Finland was a very important development for which South Africa could draw some lessons. There is already a site in the Northern Cape which is only licensed for low to intermediate radioactive waste. The current policy is that high level radioactive waste is kept on site. In the long term when the spent fuel space is full, there will be a need for a long-term storage facility. This will need to be researched, fully characterised and responsibly mandated to run issues of national radioactive waste. South Africa will benefit from cooperation with countries that have well advanced long-term radioactive solutions on waste fuel management. On the funding issue, the Department has completed stakeholder consultations with governmental entities and the National Treasury. The agreement is now with the Chief State Law Advisor so that it complies with South African legislation. It is expected that in the 2021 financial year, the agreement will be submitted to Cabinet for funding approval.
The Chairperson said if there are documents that are due to come before the Committee because of court processes then it means the postponement of the meeting is correct. Why did the agreements end up in court? Any mention of the court raises curiosity. When the Department presents again it should help members to understand this. It is not just an agreement, but the capability to stick to the agreement that matters. What were the risks associated with the failure to honour the agreement? NTP Radioisotopes closed because there was failure to comply with nuclear safety standards.
The Chairperson said the Department must be ready to explain to the Committee about each point of the agreement. The presentation was too broad. The Department must alert the Committee in advance so that it does not become a Committee of legislation. There was a presentation on the Fund Bill. When is this Bill anticipated?
Mr Zulu replied that by the end of the 2021 financial year it will be submitted to Cabinet. At the moment it is with the Chief State Law Advisor who has to review and determine whether it is in line with domestic legislation. The process of the Social Economic Impact Assessment is complete.
The Chairperson said he contextualises a situation where the Committee will be dealing with 2 or 3 Bills from the same Department. This will potentially consume the Committee’s time. He allowed the Departmental staff to leave the meeting but advised the Director-Generals to remain behind. Members are allowed to go back, study and familiarise themselves with the agreement. A date to deal with it will be provided to members.
Consideration and adoption of Committee minutes
The Chairperson asked Members to look at the Committee minutes dated 3 December 2019.
The minutes were adopted.
The Chairperson directed Members to look at the Committee minutes dated 11 February 2020.
Mr Mahlaule asked a question in IsiZulu.
The Chairperson responded in IsiZulu.
Ms Phillips asked for a translation.
The Chairperson said Mr Mahlaule was raising a point that Mr Wolmarans wasn’t noted as present when he was in attendance at the meeting. The Chairperson responded that one cannot raise a point of order on the minutes that have already been adopted but the minutes of February will be amended.
Mr Mahlaule said the spelling of ‘striped’ must be amended to ‘stripped’.
The Chairperson agreed.
Mr Mileham disagreed with the resolution on page 5. The Committee never had such a discussion.
The Chairperson replied that the issues were summarised. There is no name mentioned because there was a letter sent to the Committee and it was an attempt to do justice to the process for the person to be given an audience. The person who wrote the letter was Arendse. There was only one correction by the Secretary. The Committee said the Speaker of the Assembly must be written to about the conduct of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) who was invited but failed to appear on the basis of the letter being written. The CEO said he did not see the need to appear before the Committee because of the business rescue process. The Chairperson asked if the minutes can be adopted.
The minutes were adopted.
The Chairperson said there was correspondence coming from the Speaker of the National Assembly’s Office. He tried to check if the Committee dealt with the first correspondence but the Secretary convinced him it was dealt with in September. This refers to the letter written by the Speaker to the Chairperson about Optimum and Koornfontein business rescue processes. These issues are piling up and the Committee didn’t resolve the matter. The Committee was supposed to have an oversight visit but members were told there was a compulsory House sitting. The issue of Koornfontein and Optimum mines still stands. Workers at these mines are unpaid since October 2018 because of rivals between rescue practitioners.
The Chairperson said the second correspondence was from Northam community. An email submission was received by the Speaker from Mr Kevin Tiro on 19 November 2019 in which he raised concern regarding the Northam platinum limited in the Thabazimbi municipality. He alleged that the company has been in existence in the community for 30 years but the community has never received any benefit from the company. The Speaker referred the matter to the Committee to deal with it.
The Chairperson said there was still an outstanding issue with Lily mine. The Committee needs to visit the mine so that members can see what needs to be discussed. There was also an issue of PetrolSA which the Committee wanted to assess. Does the Committee still want to assess this? There is also the issue of radioactive waste in Northern Cape which has not yet been resolved. He doubted whether members would be allowed to conduct an oversight visit there. Lily mine remains an urgent matter. He suggested the Committee be divided into groups to do the oversight visits.
Mr Mahlaule said it did not matter if the Committee is split or not. The Committee had a plan which was submitted to the House Chair. The problem was the issue of budget that affected the plan. It was not the Committee’s problem. Members had a plan to deal with the issues and prioritised the plan but they cannot do anything if they are being told they should comply with the programme of Parliament. He advised the Chairperson to resubmit the plan including responses to the letters received from the Speaker of the National Assembly.
Mr D Mthenjane (EFF) said it is sad that someone is undermining the Committee’s work. Why are other Committees allowed to conduct oversight visits but this Committee is denied of doing the same? The Lily mine issue should be prioritised. The issue of Optimum mine is equally important. The Committee needs to resolve all these issues. He agreed with Mr Mahlaule on writing a response letter to the Speaker’s Office. The Chairperson cannot split the Committee. Can the issue of the CEO who refused to appear before the Committee be included as an issue to address?
Mr Mileham agreed with prioritising oversight visits. Since Parliament is in a difficult financial position, it is a good idea for the Committee to be split into groups. It has been done in the past in public hearings. It is a viable option to get maximum oversight.
Ms Phillips agreed with splitting the Committee into groups for the oversight visits. The visits should take place on different days to solve the problem of the Chairperson’s attendance. It will cut the cost down tremendously for Parliament. There is a need to show the country that Parliament is saving costs.
The Chairperson said the Committee will go as a full Committee. It might take more time because of the numbers. The question of splitting Members into groups must be treated as a last resort. How would Members deal with the issue of management when the Chairperson is not present? The sooner the Committee tackles the issues the better. The matters are important but some are more important than others. The issue of Lily mine cannot be compared to what members want to see because there was no crisis report on the radioactive nuclear waste site. The Committee risks ending up with a pile of issues. The Committee should respond to the Speaker highlighting the issues that need to be done. It is not the Speaker that the Committee is addressing but the people who have taken time to write to Parliament about issues that are troubling them. The Committee have taken oversight visits that are not complete because the place in the Northern Cape and PetroSA form part of what the Committee should have done at the time.
Mr Mthenjane asked about his request on the CEO who failed to appear before the Committee.
The Chairperson said the matter has been resolved. When someone is called to Parliament and they fail to appear, it must be reported to the Speaker. The Speaker may suggest that the Committee issue a summons against him. It will be difficult to issue a summons against someone without the authority of Parliament.
Mr Mthenjane asked if there was a temporary plan that can be agreed upon because writing a letter takes a lot of time. What will happen if it takes two or three years? The CEO is implementing delay tactics. Can the Committee come up with a plan to speed up the issue? The Department can withdraw the license to speed up the issue instead of waiting for a letter.
The Chairperson asked Mr Mthenjane if he wanted the Committee to change its decision and ask the CEO to come to Parliament. The CEO was invited to appear and his response was that there is no need to appear before the Committee because everything is under the business rescue practitioner. The Committee took a decision on what procedure to follow. The reason of wanting to hear other parties was to give the Department a simple direction. He was not invited because he was an interested party at the time. The Committee was dealing with people who are supposed to be accountable to the Department, the business rescue practitioners and the company. The company management failed to appear. This did not stop the Committee from taking a decision. When a person fails to appear before a Committee, the members must write to the Speaker to issue a summons against the person for undermining the Committee. It will be embarrassing to beg someone to appear before the Committee.
Mr Mthenjane said the Department is present. Why can the Committee not do something so that the CEO knows they are serious?
The Chairperson said there should not be confusion between the pattern and the Committee’s decision. The Committee is required to call and meet with the second person. The issue that is going to the Speaker is the appearance of someone invited by the Committee. There is no need to separate the issues.
Mr Mileham said he submitted a Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) application for the exploration production sharing agreement with South Sudan. Members suggested that the application should have come from the Committee and not himself in his individual capacity. The Committee stated in October last year that it would follow up on this but there has been no response on it. Has the Chairperson heard anything about this?
The Chairperson said he will check if there was a resolution and exchange of correspondence between members requesting information. The matter arose in the Committee and it cannot deny that it never requested information. Mr Mahlaule said he was honouring an agreement between two people but since it was raised in the Committee, he had to share the information with members. There was nothing wrong with that. Mr Mahlaule responded in the meeting and explained the process and why he did not submit the information. He must go back and look at the resolution. If it was in the minutes, the Committee is aware of it. The response must be given to Mr Mileham.
Mr Mahlaule suggested the Committee should go back to the resolution.
The Chairperson said he will check the resolution and adjourned the meeting.
Luzipo, Mr S
Dlamini, Mr MM
Hlonyana, Ms NKF
Mahlaule, Mr MG
Malinga, Ms VT
Mgweba, Ms T
Mileham, Mr K
Nxumalo, Mr MN
Phillips, Ms C
Wolmarans, Mr M
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