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MINERALS AND ENERGY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
17 February 1999
NUCLEAR ENERGY BILL AND NATIONAL NUCLEAR REGULATOR BILL
Documents handed out:
Presentation by the Mine Health and Safety Inspectorate
Presentation by Schalk De Waal (see appendix)
The department introduced the two bills, and highlighted some of the issues that they expected would become key debates in the next few weeks. There were clarifying questions from the committee. The Public hearings will be held in the following week, the 22 and 23 February.
The Director General, Mr Nogxina, and the Deputy Director General, Mr Mokoena, excused themselves from the meeting due to other commitments.
The Portfolio Committee heard a briefing from Mr. D Bakker on the Mine Health and safety aspects of Nuclear Regulation. The control and regulation of radiation in mines would become the responsibility of the Mine Health and Safety Inspectorate, and would not be included in the responsibilities of any National Nuclear Regulator.
Mr. De Waal, the Director of nuclear issues, briefed the committee on some of the background issues relating to the Bills. The main points of the Bills were also highlighted.
The Portfolio Committee members had questions of clarity:
Mr. Lucas (Inkhata Freedom Party) noted that in the presentation from Mr. De Waal Nedlac has cancelled meetings in mid February, and asked for the reason. The Department replied that the bills had been given to Nedlac on 11 January. However, Labour did not feel they had sufficient time to comment on the Bill. Subsequently written input had been received from Business.
Prof. Mohamed (African National Congress) enquired on the Department of Mineral and Energy Affairs policy on nuclear energy. Further, he questioned the wisdom of having the Department being both the promoter and regulator of nuclear activities, as it would imply conflicting interests. The Department responded that it would be in charge of promotion, and the regulator would report to the Minister, not the Department. In a follow up comment, the Professor noted it still dealt with the same issue. The Department commented that the promotion and regulation functions in South Africa normally sat within the same ministry, such as labour, or agriculture.
Mr Van Wyk (New National Party) asked whether the communities around the nuclear sites, such as Koeberg, had been consulted. The Department replied no.
Mr. Oliphant (African National Congress) asked for details on the participation of labour. How had they been consulted. Mr. De Waal replied that the Deputy Director General, Mr. Mokoena, had had several meetings during the course of last year on the Bills and they had been given the various drafts. He added that he was disappointed that labour had pulled out of the Nedlac meetings.
Mr. Nash (African National Congress) asked how the air in mines was tested. Secondly, he noted the playing down of the radiation issues on the surface level of mines, and noted that there was radon gasses. Mr. Bakker replied that the air in the mines was tested daily for dust and methane, and action was taken when these levels were very high. However, radon levels were taken by the mines. Part of the bill was to rectify that.
Dr Britt noted that the real issue was the amount of radioactivity that the miner breathes. He noted that to measure this was difficult. With reference to surface radiation, he believed the issue had been exaggerated. He commented at length on the various types of radon radiation in houses, bricks, and other daily occurrences. There was extreme risk in uranium mines, but there were no more such mines in South Africa. The radon impact from South Africa mine dumps was very small.
Mr Nxumalo (African National Congress) asked whether minors had protective clothing. Mr Bakker replied that such clothing would work in Gamma radiation situations. However, the radon radiation in mines was of the alpha radiation type, and therefore the problem related to inhalation. There were two control measures, to have extensive ventilation, and to have dust control.
Mr Nash expressed concern at the answer in regard to the surface radiation. In Marydale, where the Portfolio Committee visited last year, there was dust blowing of the mines every day, and children with eye sores. He requested that the issue not be diminished. Mr Bakker replied that the Department of Mineral and Energy Affairs was very aware of the dust health risks, and was doing all it could to find solutions. On the asbestos front, the Department had already spent R40 million rand in rehabilitation, and was now moving into the NW Cape. However, funding was proving a problem.
The meeting adjourned.
PRESENTATION TO THE PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE ON THE NATIONAL NUCLEAR REGULATOR BILL
Mine Health and Safety Inspectorate
Department of Minerals and Energy
1. Historical background
Previous legislation was established around the prevailing political situation at that time. That situation demanded secrecy around the nuclear industry. Since the gold mining industry was part of the nuclear fuel cycle, the production of uranium fell within the need for secrecy. Because of that, the mining industry fell within the regulations established for nuclear installations.
2. Fundamental differences between a mine and a nuclear installation
It is internationally recognized that the special liability regime required for certain nuclear activities is applicable only to nuclear installations whilst in the case of mines the much lower radiological risk can be easily accommodated within the regular civil liability system. Details in this regard are discussed in the authoritative publication "Liability and Compensation for Nuclear Damage" by the European Nuclear Energy Agency. Apart from being inconsistent with international practice it is also therefore inappropriate and unnecessarily costly to regulate mines as nuclear installations.
It is noted that the Energy White Paper (1998) p64, "Governance of the nuclear industry" specifies that operations such as mining are excluded from liability and security requirements.
2.2 Radiological Aspects
At a nuclear installation such as Koeberg there are lethal radiological hazards which can lead to death after a few minutes exposure.
In contrast, at a mine the problem is chronic exposure to low levels of radiation. A mineworker working for a year in the most hazardous area in terms of radiation in a typical SA mine would only increase his chances of contracting lung cancer - it is by no means certain that he will get lung cancer. This remark is not intended to play down the radiation hazards at a mine. There are risks pertaining to radiation and they must be controlled.
3. The Mine Health and Safety Act (Act 29 of 1996)
The Mine Health and Safety Act embodies many of the recommendations of the Leon commission. Radiation is included within the ambit of the Act. The Act confers the overall responsibility for health and safety in mines to the Mining Inspectorate of the DME. The Inspectorate, through the Chief Inspector, reports directly to the Minister and has the necessary independence.
The objectives of the Mine Health and Safety Act are
a) To ensure a healthy environment both for the employees as well as for members of the public and
b) To manage possible hazards by
· Identifying the hazards
· Assessing the risks
· Recording the significant hazards and risks
· Making records available for inspectors and
· Design safe systems to eliminate any recorded risk
The act established a Chief Directorate: Mine Health and Safety which consists of two divisions: Occupational Hygiene and Occupational Medicine. It is clear that the Inspectorate has a structure in place that is dedicated to worker health and safety.
The Act has established the tripartite Mine Health and Safety Council that advises the Minister on all aspects of health and safety. Three tripartite sub-committees of the Council have also been created:
(a) MRAC: Mining Regulation Advisory Committee
This committee advises the Council on all legislation pertaining to health and safety.
(b) MOHAC: Mining Occupational Health Advisory Committee
MOHAC concerns itself with policy, standards, regulations and health data. With respect to radiation protection of workers and the public, the new NNR should be invited to comment.
(c) SIMRAC: Safety in Mining Research Advisory Committee
Under the auspices of this committee a radiation spectrometer has been developed. It has been well received internationally. Three computer programs have also been developed to model variations in radiation levels in the working place namely: Radviron, Aquanuke and Stoperad.
4. The position in SA mines
There are significant worker radiation risks above ground, but since the number of workers involved is relatively small these risks will not be discussed. The main problem in SA mines underground is the presence in some mines of elevated
radon concentrations. Radon is the radioactive decay product of uranium. It is a ubiquitous gas and it is present in the atmosphere, in our homes and in our offices. Due to the higher uranium concentrations in the gold ore in some SA mines, elevated radon concentrations can and does occur underground.
An important function of the DME is to ensure that mine air is safe to breathe. Radon is one of the hazards in mine air - there are also diesel particulates, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulphide and silica dust. Like the other pollutants, radon concentrations are intimately associated with underground ventilation. The flow of air in underground workings is a mining engineering issue. The expertise required to ensure healthy conditions resides in the Inspectorate.
Unfortunately, there are now two different government bodies, with different points of departure, which are regulating atmospheric pollutants underground, namely the CNS and the Inspectorate of the DME. This fragmented control has created an untenable situation. For example, ventilation patterns had to be changed to mitigate the impact of radon, but the unintended result was the possibility of an increase in methane concentrations in other parts of the mine. High methane concentrations however constitute an explosion risk.
It is essential that one regulator should control the health hazards in and around mines in a holistic and integrated manner. Such holistic hazard control has been recognized in the rest of the world as the best option. To the best of our knowledge there are no non-uranium mines (the little uranium produced in South Africa now is a by-product of our gold production) in the world, which are regulated by the nuclear regulator of the country. The mining inspectorate of the country usually controls radiation together with the other mine hazards.
There is no justification for this present fragmentation of regulatory responsibility, which in fact goes against the provisions of the Mine Health and Safety Act.
5. Protection of the public
The possibility of the public being exposed to elevated levels of radiation due to mining activities must also be considered. Article 5 (2) (b) and 8 (1) (c) of the MHSA place the onus on the mine to safeguard the public. Article 49 (3) (a) confers the power on the Chief Inspector of Mines to investigate such hazards and to control them at source.
It is noted that mine dumps do release some radon into the public domain. In this respect however the CNS has grossly exaggerated the possible impact on the public. This intentional exaggeration has led to very expensive environmental
programs which produced very little of value. It only confirmed previous scientific data, which indicated a negligible impact of radon, in a costly manner.
6. The capability of the DME to control radiation hazards
The Inspectorate has the services of a specialist in radiation (ex CNS) to assist in further developing the desired control infrastructure in accordance with international practice. In fact, the DME now employs 2 scientists at Ph.D. level with a combined experience of about 40 years in the nuclear industry. In addition, there are a total of 15 qualified mine occupational hygiene inspectors of whom 12 are in possession of a certificate for radiation protection. The experience of these people in total amounts to about 250 years. This knowledge and experience in itself plays an important role in tackling radiation as well as other hazardous pollutants in the working environment. It is however inappropriate to develop this structure in more detail now since it is not yet clear in which way this matter will be resolved.
The control of steel contaminated with radioactivity has proved to be a troublesome problem. Frequent and unannounced site inspections should be carried out. The DME is ideally suited to perform such inspections, since our regional inspectors are stationed in the mining areas. They also have an intimate knowledge of the mines in their particular areas.
However, our level of expertise does not and should not match that of the CNS. The Inspectorate does not control a nuclear power station. Like money, you can never have enough expertise. Our objective is to ensure that worker health is not compromised and we will ensure that sufficient expertise is available to control the mines on an internationally acceptable level. If necessary (after discussion with the CNS), more qualified people may be appointed or even transferred from the CNS to the Inspectorate since these are resources within the same government department.
When problems are encountered that cannot be solved by the staff of the Inspectorate, consultants, e.g. the CNS will be appointed.
It should be noted that due to the slump in the nuclear industry, highly qualified people are also readily available internationally.
7. Controls on the performance of the Inspectorate regarding radiation protection
It is appreciated that people in general has an aversion to radiation hazards and that strong emotions can be generated in this regard. Radiation protection of workers and the public generally receives more attention than other hazards. It can be pointed out that there are a number of controls on the performance of the Inspectorate regarding radiation protection.
Personnel of the Inspectorate should present papers at local scientific meetings for scrutiny by their peers. International experts visit SA frequently. The control exercised by the Inspectorate will be presented to such people for open comment. Representatives of the workers and the new National Nuclear Regulator have the opportunity to make presentations to MOHAC.
Since worker health must not be compromised in any way during the time when control passes from the CNS to the Inspectorate, this transfer must be performed in an orderly manner. There should also be frequent consultation with the CNS on all matters of interest.
8. Powers of the Inspectorate
It is further noted that hazard control should preferably be performed in a cooperative manner with mine management. This however is not always possible and the Act (Sections 50 to 55) has granted wide-ranging powers to inspectors. For the purposes of monitoring or enforcing compliance with the Act an inspector may:
· Enter any mine at any time without warrant or notice
· Bring into a mine and use any necessary equipment and materials
· Question any person or matter to which the Act relates
· Inspect any document at any time
· Require documents and explanations at any time from mine officials
· Remove any article or sample when necessary
· When dangerous conditions exist order mining operations to be halted
· Give instructions to rectify sub-standard conditions.
When necessary, these powers have been exercised. As an example, during the last three months of 1998 alone, 153 instructions were issued in Mpumalanga to stop operations.
A Principal Inspector of Mines may, after recommendation by an Inspector, impose a fine of up to R 200 000 per contravention. Finally, employers may also be criminally prosecuted after an Inspector has held an inquiry.
The fact that ionizing radiation is controlled by more than one regulator is not new in SA. In fact, the Department of Health controls radioactive sources and the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry controls radioactivity in water.
Cabinet has already approved the principle that the new NNR should not have regulatory authority over mines.
This principle is also in accordance with approved energy policy and with the
Mine Health and Safety Act. The Leon commission expressly recommended that
the control of all health hazards to fall under the jurisdiction of the Inspectorate.
This recommendation is embodied in the Mine Health and Safety Act.
One aspect that will not change when control over radiation in mines is passed to the Inspectorate is the application of international standards and international best practices regarding radiological protection of workers and the public. Standards will be applied with efficiency and transparency.
What will be achieved is the following:
· A historical imbalance would be corrected - there is no need for secrecy now.
· Removing the mines from the system of nuclear regulation is consistent with international practice regarding liability.
· The control over radiation by the Mining Inspectorate will bring South Africa in line with other countries worldwide.
· The controlling process would become much cheaper and more effective - for example, only one set of mining inspectors will be necessary. The resultant saving will benefit the country and all the people as a whole.
· Hazards will be controlled in a holistic manner - radioactivity is one of the hazards at a mine - there are many more. Control through the Inspectorate of the DME will ensure integrated safety regulation and inspection in line with international standards.
Nuclear Energy Bill
The main objectives of the Nuclear Energy Bill are to:
• establish the SA Nuclear Corporation Ltd.
• to separate the functions of nuclear safety from development and application of nuclear technology
• and to provide for more transparency and accountability in the nuclear industry in SA
The Nuclear Energy Bill was drafted to:
• reformulate the governance regime of the AEC to establish transparency and accountability
• Reorganise the mandate of the AEC’s management and governing structures such as the Board of Directors, so that matters of a sensitive and national nature are placed under the control of the Minister of Minerals and Energy who may delegate those functions as appropriate
• Reorganise the Board of Directors and management in such a manner that the task of restructuring may be executed and accomplished with ease in line with the report "The System Wide Review of Public Sector Science, Engineering and Technology Institutions" of DACST
• Separate the legislation that governs the AEC and the Council for Nuclear Safety (CNS).
On the date of enactment of the Bill:
• The AEC will be substituted by the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (SANEC)
• The CNS will be substituted by the National Nuclear Regulator
How should Parliament deal with this Bill
• In accordance with section 75 of the Constitution of the Republic of SA, 1996 (Act No 108 of 1996),
• since it contains no provision to which the procedures set out in section 74 or 76 of the Constitution apply
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