Andreas Späth

Dress rehearsal for a Koeberg meltdown

2012-10-01 13:31

Andreas Späth

Just before 8am on Tuesday, September 4 unusually high levels of radioactivity were measured in the primary cooling circuit of one of the reactors at the Koeberg nuclear power plant outside Cape Town. During the course of the morning, radioactive steam was released into the air and blown towards city’s suburbs by a strong North-Wester...

... all of which happened on paper, theoretically, during an emergency exercise and NOT in the real world.

Every two years, the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) organises these exercises in order to comply with its legal mandate to ensure that a viable plan to deal with a potential nuclear accident at Koeberg is in place. As a member of the anti-nuclear Koeberg Alert Alliance (KAA), I was invited as a "VIP observer" and spent the day visiting a number of key sites involved in the exercise.

Our first stop was the City of Cape Town's Disaster Operations Centre (DOC) in Bellville where functionaries representing everyone from the SANDF to the SPCA had gathered to spearhead the response to the hypothetical crisis by activating the Integrated Koeberg Nuclear Emergency Plan, a document that has long been shrouded in official secrecy, but was recently brought into the public domain by persistent advocacy from KAA. Read it here.

Inspections

Back at Koeberg we inspected the Technical Support Centre (TSC) and the Emergency Control Centre (ECC), which are housed in a bunker-like basement just a few hundred metres from the plant’s reactor containment building. In the TSC, Eskom experts were figuring out how to bring the plant under control, while a group of their colleagues in the adjoining ECC were relaying recommendations to the DOC on how to deal with the impact of the hypothetical crisis on the surrounding environment and its human inhabitants.

While Eskom provides technical support and advice, local authorities are responsible for taking actions in response to the emergency. Thus road blocks were set up, hypothetical food bans imposed, hypothetical potassium iodate tablets distributed and a computer model was used to hypothetically evacuate some 3 000 residents from the five kilometre Precautionary Action Zone around Koeberg. At a Mass Care Centre set up at the Parow North Sport and Recreation Centre, one bus load of real-life volunteer "evacuees" were processed for hypothetical radioactive contamination.

The exercise ended with a mock press conference at the Joint Media Centre located at Eskom's Bellville offices, where the crisis was declared over as the situation at Koeberg had been brought under control. Based on the hypothetical amount of radioactive material released, the event was rated a Level 4 accident on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES). While the windblown radioactive cloud had moved rapidly, the maximum hypothetical radiation measurement taken in the plume was merely 1.6 mSv per hour, comparable to natural background levels and of insignificant risk to the public.

A joke?

At the debriefing session on the following day everyone was pretty happy. Baring a few minor glitches, everything had proceeded according to plan.

I thought it was a joke.

I have no doubt that the officials involved are 100% committed to their jobs and that they might be hypothetically capable of dealing with the equivalent of a mildly annoying radioactive fart from Koeberg. But what about a serious Level 7 accident on par with Chernobyl or Fukushima?

What exactly is the point of not practicing for a worst-case scenario? After all, NNR CEO Advocate Boyce Mkhize had suggested at the start that the exercise should show that we are able to cope with an accident on the scale of Fukushima. Did it?

Blinkered vision

No, it didn't. In both the Ukraine and Japan, well over 100 000 people were evacuated from 30km exclusion zones. Nothing of the sort was even contemplated here.

The exercise did not prove that the existing emergency plan is able to sufficiently protect people or the environment in the case of a major, Fukushima-scale nuclear accident and it stands to reason that the NNR has failed to fulfil its legal obligation to ensure exactly that. In the end, this felt more like a feel-good exercise than an emergency exercise.

Self-congratulatory back-slapping aside, the operation reflects the blinkered vision of an industry that refuses to honestly confront reality - the reality that a worst-case nuclear accident scenario is nigh-on impossible to plan for or mitigate - for the simple reason that if it did, it would have to put itself out of business.

- Andreas freelance writer with a PhD in geochemistry. Follow him on Twitter: @Andreas_Spath

Send your comments to Andreas

Disclaimer:
News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.



- News24

NEXT ON NEWS24X

Hollywood exposed

2014-12-19 15:23

SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
32 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/News

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

2DAYS ONLY – 30% off Appliances

Coffee makers, blenders, fans, juicers and more. T&Cs apply. Shop now!

2 DAYS ONLY – 40% off books

Get 40% off when you buy 2 books. For two days only! T&Cs apply. Buy now!

Up to 50% off on outdoor gear

Save on chairs, blankets, cooler bags, umbrellas and more. Shop now!

Save on Samsung

Cameras, mobile phones, TVs, Tablets and more. While stocks last. Shop now!

Grand Theft Auto 5

Now available on PS4, Xbox One and PC from R649. Buy now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

At last you are able to see the light. You are able to break through obstacles in an innovative and original way. Visualisation is...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.