Nuclear Regulatory Issues: Department of Minerals and Energy briefing


19 October 2004
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report

19 October 2004

Ms E Thabethe (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Department presentation on nuclear regulatory issues
Department document on nuclear waste management

This meeting provided Members with detailed information on the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) to ensure the Committee were adequately prepared for a proposed Nuclear Summit. The Department of Minerals and Energy (DME) presented a briefing on nuclear regularity issues, including an overview of the nuclear sector, the proposed Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR), and policies and practices in waste management. The Committee then raised concerns including the costs and benefits of the PBMR, the safety and security of nuclear installations, and the viability of renewable energy sources.


Department briefing
Mr Maqubela (Department Chief Director: Nuclear Operations) gave the Committee an overview of the nuclear sector's principal role players; general policies; activities and stipulations of the NNR; and international obligations and practices. He then outlined the central challenges faced by the sector, matters pertaining to the PBMR, and policies and procedures relating to radioactive waste management.

Mr L Greyling (ID) commented that the presentation neglected to explore some of the problems created by the use of nuclear power. He requested information concerning safety procedures at Koeberg, especially with regard to emergency exercises and the monitoring of radioactivity. He also enquired about the scale and nature of employment that the proposed PBMR would generate.

Mr Matjila responded that the PBMR project had the potential to generate approximately 200 000 jobs, although these would not be realised during the construction of the first PBMR model.

Dr de Waal (Department Director: Nuclear Safety) explained that the NNR formed part of an extensive safety network through which all reported incidents and deficiencies (including response procedures and emergency exercise) were investigated and corrected. Together with the initial site inspection to determine risk acceptability, environmental assessment was ongoing.

Mr J Arendse (ANC) asked for details concerning the number of PBMRs constructed in Germany, and whether they had been operating efficiently and without incident. He requested clarity on the "reprocessing" and "recycling" of nuclear waste.

Dr de Waal explained that "reprocessing" and "recycling" referred to the fact that 95% of spent nuclear fuel was recyclable material, and was not therefore classified as waste.

Mr G Morgan (DA) queried the marketability of the PBMR; the number of reactors needed to alleviate national energy concerns, and the processes involved in determining their locations. He also requested information about community forums among residents near nuclear facilities, and the difference between a PBMR and other types of reactors in terms of waste.

Mr D Olifant (ANC) pointed out that the community surrounding Koeberg was not adequately informed about the activities of the station and appealed for clarity regarding the timeframes for "capacity building" in the area. He then raised a concern about the population densities of areas near to nuclear installations.

Ms J Chalmers (ANC) agreed that the issue of "capacity building" needed to be explained and queried the role of Eskom in the PBMR project.

Mr Matjila replied that the PBMR project targeted 4% of the expected growth in global generating capacity, and that Eskom was expected to purchase 24 PBMRs. The initial one would be situated at Koeberg and the locations of subsequent installations would be determined through a process of public participation and review. In terms of the difference in waste production between a PBMR and other types of reactors, the fuel used in a pebble bed reactor was more stable. Although the strategy for waste disposal had yet to be finalised, the method adopted would have to correspond to current waste management policy.

Dr de Waal explained that public safety and information forums had been constituted in accordance with the NNR Act. They were designed to inform the public residing around a nuclear facility of safety planning matters. There were a variety of regulations pertaining to the control of development around nuclear installations to ensure that emergency plans remained viable.

Mr A Mokoena (ANC) queried the original cost of establishing Koeberg, the current value of the installation and the amount that would be required for decommissioning. He also voiced his concern about management and safety of nuclear waste, with reference to an incident in Attridgeville.

Ms R Ndzanga (ANC) drew attention to the risk that nuclear waste posed for future generations, and enquired about the suitability of solar energy in rural areas.

Mr Matjila answered that the cost of replacing Koeberg would be approximately R30 billion and the cost of decommissioning, including waste disposal, was around R16 billion. In response to the query concerning the applicability of solar power, he suggested that, as such technologies were frequently expensive and unreliable, they ought to be utilised in conjunction with more dependable and affordable energy sources.

The Committee then agreed that, as delegates were not in possession of the specifics of the Attridgeville incident, the Department of Minerals and Energy should supply Members with a follow-up report.

Dr J Matjila (Department Environmental and Tourism: Chief Director Pollution and Waste Management) alerted the Committee to the negative effect climate change would have on South Africa. The country would soon have to reduce its gas emissions and discussions soon should take place on methods and the consequences for South Africa's energy-dependant industries.

Ms Chalmers (ANC) enquired about the cost-effectiveness of the PBMR.

Mr Olifant (ANC) again indicated that the public safety and information forum in the Koeberg region was not functioning effectively. The future urban growth of Cape Town would be along the West Coast.

Mr Greyling (ID) suggested that renewable energy sources should not be perceived as necessarily expensive and unreliable. He was concerned that foreign nations might view nuclear proliferation in South Africa with suspicion. He also emphasised the importance of a Nuclear Summit to further explore such issues.

The Chairperson pointed out that the some Members needed more detailed information on the sector before they participated in such a specialised summit.

Ms J Semple (DA) agreed and recommended that the Committee request organisations that did not support the nuclear programme, to address Members.

Mr Greyling (ID) suggested that the decision regarding South Africa's energy sector would be made soon. It was therefore critical that Members engage with the various viewpoints as soon as possible.

Mr Majila said that 'capacity building' referred to the educational programme established to ensure communities were fully informed on the nuclear chain. South Africa was in ongoing discussion with a number of foreign nations, including the United States, over the issue of nuclear proliferation. In terms of international obligations, South Africa could increase its nuclear capacity as long as it only used such capacity for peaceful purposes. He suggested the Committee contact the NNR so that Members could get a clearer picture on specific issues in the sector.

The meeting was adjourned.


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