Activists object to Pelindaba smelter

2013-08-22 11:16
Earthlife Africa has slammed the government's moves toward nuclear energy. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Earthlife Africa has slammed the government's moves toward nuclear energy. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - An environmental organisation has warned that an imminent announcement of a nuclear waste treatment facility will negatively impact local residents.

"It seems that our government is hell bent on the unwarranted and unnecessary exposure our workers, scrap metal dealers and the general public to nuclear radiation," said Muna Lakhani of Earthlife Africa Cape Town.

The organisation said that the residents close to Pelindaba will be exposed to particulate matter when the nuclear smelters go online.

"South Africans, particularly those living close to Pelindaba, whether residents of, for example, Peaconwood and Blair Athol upmarket Golf Estates or impoverished communities  within Malachi, Drummond, Attridgeville and Thabo Mbeki, must brace themselves for exposure to potentially life threatening airborne minute nuclear particles being released into the Gauteng atmosphere on a daily basis for at least 10 years."

According to Necsa's (South African Nuclear Energy Corporation's) Smelter Public Information Document, there are about 14 000 tons of "lightly uranium contaminated ferrous and non-ferrous metals" at the Pelindaba site that need to be managed.

Nuclear policy

Most of these materials result from the decommissioning of uranium enrichment at the site that was closed down in the 1990s.

"One of the responsibilities of the Nuclear Liabilities Management (NLM) Department of Necsa is to safely manage this material according to internationally accepted norms," says the document.

Earthlife Africa expressed its disgust at the plan to recycle the material near residential areas.

"The ill-conceived decision made by the NNR (to be announced this week), to licence two nuclear waste smelters will also allow smelted ingots into the Gauteng scrap metal market of 'recycled' radioactive metal, including the materials used in the development of the atomic bomb.

"These particles are the most dangerous forms of radioactive releases as they are easily inhaled and may lodge within the body where they will continuously emit potentially cancer forming radionuclides."

South Africa's nuclear policy has come under fire from various sources since the 1990s. Despite assurances by Cabinet members, including Trevor Manuel, on a transparent process, there have persistent calls for the country to completely abandon nuclear energy.


"What appears to be government policy has been formulated without any policy debate on these matters having taken place within the policy arenas or local structures of the ruling ANC party.

"This lack of transparency is symptomatic of how the executive branch of government has come to dominate national policy making," says an Institute of Security Studies paper titled Nuclear energy rethink? The rise and demise of South Africa’s Pebble Bed Modular Reactor.

According to the Necsa document, the objectives of the smelter include the management and reduction of waste volumes at the site, as well as the destruction of sensitive elements.

Earthlife Africa and the Pelindaba Working Group have proposed alternatives to the smelter, including the encapsulating of the material in concrete.

The Necsa document concedes that encapsulating is an option, but dismissed it as viable.

"Encapsulation of metal waste, in concrete is an option. It is, however considered bad practice to encapsulate any quantities of resource materials. It will not reduce waste volumes."

- Follow Duncan on Twitter
Read more on:    earthlife africa  |  environment  |  nuclear

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