Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa and National Nuclear Regulator : briefing

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Mineral Resources and Energy

16 May 2001
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Meeting report

MINERALS AND ENERGY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
16 MAY 2001
NUCLEAR ENERGY CORPORATION OF SOUTH AFRICA (NECSA) AND NATIONAL NUCLEAR REGULATOR (NNR): BRIEFING

Chairperson: Mr D Nkosi

Documents issued:
NECSA Activities and Budget for 2001/2
Transformation of NECSA
NNR Objectives and outputs 2000-2001
NNR Financial position 2000-2001
White Paper on Energy Policy (1998)

Department website: www.dme.gov.za
NECSA website: www.aec.co.za
NNR website: www.nnr.co.za

SUMMARY
Both presentations from NECSA and NNR focused on the issues of development and transformation of the nuclear energy sector. Issues such as the recruitment and training of young scientists, especially those from the previously disadvantaged communities, formed the most important part of the briefing. The committee on the other hand, wanted more clarity on issues such as waste management, corporatisation and transformation in the nuclear energy sector. There appeared to be a lot of interesting questions from the committee side as a result the chairperson, because of the time factor, had to make a rule that certain questions should be answered in writing and be handed over to the committee for further discussion.

MINUTES
Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa presentation
Mr M. Damane, Acting Chief Executive Officer of the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa (NECSA) told the committee that NECSA is a public company formed by the Nuclear Energy Act of 1999 and owned by the State which started operating in 2000. Thus the old Atomic Energy Corporation (AEC) was transformed into NECSA.

Responsibilities of NECSA
- Developing technological expertise in the field of nuclear fuels.
- Promoting the development and application of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.
- Exercising control over the management of radioactive waste.
- Administering the international safeguards agreement on behalf of the state. He said the safeguards agreement relates to ensuring that the matters of agreement between the government and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are fulfilled.

Importance of the Safari reactor
Mr Damane said the Safari reactor is a national asset that can play a pivotal role in nation building in South Africa. It can provide an important technical and scientific advice facility for education, reactor-related training and capacity building. It provides a useful facility for neutron beam research for both basic sciences and applied physics.

White Paper on Energy policy
The White Paper indicated that NECSA has to be divided into two divisions:
- an institutional division that is going to administer all the responsibilities of the state.
- a purely commercial division. This is indicated on the basis that NECSA has over the years developed certain capabilities such as isotope production and fluorine chemistry. These are viable businesses that NECSA is ready to corporate and perhaps eventually privatize.

Another issue was to solidify the role of the SAFARI reactor within NECSA. The SAFARI reactor is a national resource that must be opened up for everybody in South Africa who has an interest in the nuclear technology field. Universities should make use of the facilities because NECSA found it under-utilised. He reiterated that the SAFARI reactor is a great asset to the country.

Transformation within NECSA
Mr Damane said the organizational culture prior to 1990 was characterized by high secrecy. After 1994 the organization realized that it has to transform. They are trying to build an open, transparent company where there will be trust across all levels of employees.

[For more details, see NECSA Powerpoint presentation]

Discussion
Ms N Mtsweni (ANC) said she would not be convinced that NECSA has accommodated the designated groups unless they make a breakdown of the percentages in terms of gender, racial groupings and qualifications.

Mr Damane replied that the number of women in the company is very small. However he was quick to point out that they have an active transformation forum that includes all the designated groups, including women of all race groups. He added that a group of women have written a letter endorsing the efforts that the company is making towards transformation. He assured the committee that they are addressing the problem of gender, specially through offering bursaries to more women.

Prof. I Mohamed (ANC) asked about the commercialisation of the activities of Atomic Energy Corporation (AEC) with NECSA. He wanted to know whether NECSA would be a separate body from the AEC.

Regarding the commercial division, Mr Damane agreed that they are aiming to do that because they believe it is a viable business that can stand on its own. Whether it will be split from NECSA itself will be a decision of the shareholder. He said they as management believe that AEC should be privatised so that it can meet its full potential.

The commercial division grew out of a need to generate money for the company. They have used internal expertise and the department sub-sectoral task team that deals with the restructuring of NECSA. He said this commercialisation has to be processed via the task team and handed over to the Minister before they could effectively corporatise.

Prof. Mohamed said he recognises the importance of the SAFARI reactor, but the funding of the SAFARI according to the tax review is not justified. He was not arguing for the shutting down of the SAFARI because he believed it has a valuable national contribution but he thought its funding should be reviewed.

Mr Damane said there is a review report that found that the SAFARI reactor is a resource that the government should not allow to stop operating. He promised to make that report available to the committee.

Prof. Mohamed asked what is being done about nuclear waste. He has been arguing that there should be a nuclear waste management policy. What is the AEC doing about that?

Mr Damane replied that nuclear waste management is a function of the government. The government with NECSA's assistance, has been busy developing waste management policy. He knew NECSA has been co-operating with the government to the extent that a draft document has been produced. However this document had to go through certain channels first before it is introduced to Parliament and the public.

Prof. Mohamed said they are told that NECSA is looking for a geologically suitable site where they can store nuclear waste. However he was worried about the safety of the people living near to such a site.

Mr Damane said they have not identified a deep geological site. Their nuclear liabilities management is talking about eventually managing such a site. He added that even the United States of America has not adopted a policy on geological sites. They had identified a site in Nevada but the Clinton administration could not come to a decision. It is expected that the Bush administration will come to a decision before the end of this year because their old storage site is full - so they have to make a decision. South Africa is not there yet but he promised that the work the department is doing will eventually lead to identifying a site. He added that it was quoted that the Council of Geoscience has identified a site but what he does not know is whether this happened at the instigation of the government.

Ms D Motubatse (ANC) wanted to know about the Pelindaba project, she said there seemed to be some shortfalls . However the report states that there is a lot happening in terms of inventions. She asked if the state is expected to subsidise the Pelindaba project, and if so, for how long?

Mr Damane replied that the commercialised division of NECSA which includes the Pelindaba project is self-funded, that is why they would like it to be a private company so that it can raise its own funds if there are any shortfalls.

Mr I Davidson (DP) wanted to know the functional difference between Pelindaba and Valindaba (an entity just outside Pretoria). Where is Valindaba accounted for in the report? He echoed Prof. Mohamed's question on what is being done about nuclear waste policy.

A NECSA official replied that when they refer to NECSA they normally refer to Pelindaba which also includes Valindaba. These are two farms but on one site that is Pelindaba. The Chairperson added that this was like the front and the back door but in the same yard.

Mr Blanche (FA) asked how the Department could avoid losing scientists and what could be done to retain highly competent staff? His second question was on patents. He said it is not possible to have patents on all the systems and development initiatives. Do these systems and development initiatives become properties of the company or the property of the employer?

Mr Damane replied that the scientists that they lose are those who retire. They are even reluctant to let the retirees go because there is a worldwide shortage of nuclear scientist. He said even when the Director-General of the IAEA was in South Africa they were discussing this issue and incidentally he made a speech in South Korea about the lack of nuclear scientists. Mr Damane said they agreed that they must do everything in their power to retain scientists. He said whilst the older scientists are still employed by NECSA they are trying to bring in new ones so that they can be trained by the old ones. They are attempting to address this problem through bursaries and in-service training programs.

Mr Damane noted that the patent is owned by the employer, that is, the company.

Mr Lucas (IFP) reiterated the issue on nuclear waste. He asked about the decommissioning of the nuclear fuel plants and facilities. The government should be concerned about the waste and the cost of this activity. Further he asked what will be done about the earnings on rentals, how are they going to be dealt with?

Mr Damane said this is an ongoing process. They have not decommissioned all the building sites. The government has committed itself to provide some funds for the next three years for further decommissioning of buildings. In order to manage the waste, they have to decommission the building first.

He said earnings on rentals reduce the amount of funding that the institutional activities will require from the government.

Mr Damane reiterated that the Department has finalised the nuclear waste policy but that it still has to follow process.

Mr Lucas asked what effect does the radiation system at plants have on communities. Will it not result in people getting cancer?

Mr Damane replied that they do not go to out there to radiate just for the sake of it. They do this with caution and they ensure that this will not have an effect on people.

Mr T Maqhubela, Director of Nuclear Energy: Department of Minerals and Energy, noted that he wanted to address some issues that had come up during the discussion:
1) Waste Management Policy
- The Department realises that the issue of waste management policy is urgent. However they also acknowledge the fact that they have a capacity problem. Last year a team of specialists from NECSA, ESKOM and the NNR was formed. This team put together a draft policy document which is available on the Department website for comments. He would undertake to provide committee members with a copy of that document.
- In addition to that policy document they have also prepared a status document to inform them as to what they need to do with current waste. There is also a status document on radioactive waste management in South Africa. This document is also available at the DME website and he again promised to make it available to the committee. He said presently both documents are out for initial comment.
- They are also drafting a strategy document that will look at the various options that could be pursued in the management of radioactive waste. For example the issue of deep geological disposal will be addressed in that strategy document.
Mr Maqhubela said that much work has been done. The Committee would see this from the two documents that would be made available to them.

2) Budget shortfall: people should know that they are operating within the confines of the fiscal discipline of the government. Thus they are hoping that the innovation of NECSA could alleviate that situation. The department is busy monitoring the situation. Mr Maqhubela said they are involved in the corporatization process and they are trying to fast-track it.

National Nuclear Regulator presentation
Prof. Taole, NNR senior board member, focused on the transformation challenges facing the organisation [which was previously the Council for Nuclear Safety (CNS)]. Among the things that NNR has to do is be involved in capacity building. He said there was insufficient capacity especially in the previously disadvantaged communities. He made mention of a project between the University of the North West and Witwatersrand where NNR is involved in post-graduate training in nuclear sciences, radiation protection, engineering and safety. Bursaries and scholarships are available for students who want to undergo these courses.

Internal management in the NNR
Mr S van der Woude, NNR senior manager in mining, waste and nuclear technology, said they have changed some human resource practices in the areas of recruitment, staff development and performance management. NNR has met its representativity targets that it set itself in 1997.

[For more details on the NNR, see the Powerpoint presentations]

Discussion
The Chairperson said the Department, the Committee and the NECSA and NNR presentation teams should work out a programme on how they could follow up some of the issues and have further discussions. Such discussions occur prior to the Department Budget debate each year because much funding is transferred through the Department to institutions such as NECSA and NNR.

Mr Oliphant (ANC) said it would be important for the Committee to get a breakdown of all their activities and their projections. He also suggested that in their recruitment of scientists they should include people with disabilities because they do fall under the designated groups.

Mr Oliphant was particularly concerned about certain mines. He wanted to know how radiation is reduced in those mines so that people in such areas are not affected and are also made aware.

Mr Oliphant said it is important to get a clearer picture on the corporatisation of the Pelindaba technologies. Issues that should come up for discussion are who are the shareholders, are there any foreign investors and how will the community benefit from it.

Prof. Mohamed said he knows of reports that radioactive material was stolen from NECSA but he would like to know about incident. Secondly, why is the decommissioning of nuclear plants taking so many years?

The Chairperson ruled that these questions should be responded to in writing. This would provide an opportunity for further discussion of these issues. He requested that the Department package any information that could be helpful for this interaction. They would negotiate a time when this information should be presented to the Committee.

The meeting was adjourned.

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