Earthlife Africa has lost a court action against South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) to stop the construction and use of a small nuclear waste smelter.On Tuesday, the Pretoria High Court dismissed Earthlife’s application to set aside the authorisation for the nuclear corporation to operate the smelter.
The ruling was made by Judge Pierre Rabie, who awarded costs against Earthlife Africa.
The Chairman of Necsa, Dr Kelvin Kemm said: “I am really pleased at this most sensible outcome. Earthlife Africa has consistently refused to listen to any reason and has pursued this silly action as part of its ongoing attitude of obstruction of Necsa’s activities at every opportunity.”
Dr Kemm added: “Necsa has highly competent and responsible nuclear scientists and engineers who would not engage in silly irresponsible behaviour of the type that Earthlife Africa constantly implies.”
Necsa confirms strict safety measures
An unnamed Necsa spokesperson explained in a statement: The truth of the matter of the smelter is that according to stringent nuclear handling protocols, as laid down by law, various items such as pipes and metal fittings, which have been used in a nuclear process, have to be cleaned, checked for residual radiation and then safely stored.
According to the nuclear corporation, at Necsa, such metal components are subjected to a thorough chemical cleaning process to remove radioactive dust, sludge or other contaminant. This is all carried out within a sealed environment.
However due to sharp angles in the metal such as screw threads and machined grooves, the chemical cleaning cannot remove 100% of potential radioactive contaminant.
The ‘waste’ pipes and fittings were then stored in a secure area, after chemical cleaning. Such metal parts, collected over many years, were filling up the storage area.
Necsa then decided that to reduce the space occupied by these pipes and parts, to allow for more storage space. To achieve this it was decided that it would be a good idea to melt the waste components down to solid blocks of metal. Another advantage of the smelting was to destroy secret shapes, dimensions and fittings which could potentially be of benefit to a competitor.
A sophisticated smelting system was designed. This system not only melts the metal but also removes 98% of any Uranium which may still remain on the metal.
The resulting cast blocks of metal exhibit so little radiation that, the radiation is less than the radiation found in natural rocks that you would find in areas containing granite.
Nevertheless these blocks of metal are stored at Necsa, as is any recovered uranium or other material. None escapes to the environment in any way.
Phumzile Tshelane, CEO of Necsa said: “Earthlife Africa made much of a ventilation stack attached to the smelter. They made repeated accusations that radioactive gasses would be emitted by the stack. This is simply not true, which was explained to them repeatedly.
“The stack is for air pressure control purposes, since the entire smelter is indoors, and the stack is not connected to any radioactive materials, at any time.”