Radiation emergency at nuclear reactor near Pretoria

Posted Mar 16, 2009 by Adriana Stuijt
A leak of radiation gases occurred at the Pelindaba nuclear reactors near Pretoria at 10am on Monday, the SA Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) said. "Abnormal levels of gamma radiation associated with xenon and krypton gases were detected."
These high levels of radiation were detected near the building in which radioisotopes are produced for medical applications," Necsa said, according to their statement on the South African Press Association website.They didn't say how these xenon and krypton gases could have escaped. However they did decide to declare an on-site emergency, causing the evacuation of the entire nuclear site by staffers until the radiation levels 'returned to normal' readings. The residents of the city of Pretoria were not informed about the radiation leaks until this press statement was issued - after the emergency was all over.
Deep concern
This caused deep worry with Mike Kantey, national chairman for The Coalition Against Nuclear Energy in South Africa, who has expressed 'deep concern" about Monday's emergency. Pelindaba 's security measures have recently also been breached by armed attack gangs.
Four aging nuclear reactors:
South Africa has four aging, French-built nuclear reactors - two were designed to generate electricity at Koeberg nuclear power station, just north of Cape Town along the Atlantic Ocean, and two at the Pelindaba/Velindaba nuclear sites near Pretoria. These sites were all built during the apartheid era. The Koeberg power station has had to shut down repeatedly, mainly due to maintenance problems, over the past ten years.
Necsa 's official statement also claimed that '' these gases were not absorbed to any extent by living systems." Necsa said an alarm was sounded and all people on site moved to designated assembly points. 'By 10.38am levels of radiation had returned to normal'
Necsa said the level of radiation detected in and near the affected buildings peaked above operational limits but the total amount released was within the daily release limits."By 10.38am levels of radiation had returned to normal, the emergency was called off and employees were instructed to resume their normal duties," Necsa said.
And, although Pelindaba is located very close to the outer city perimetres of greater Pretoria - which is the capitol city of South Africa -- the event still was classified 'only as a on on-site emergency with no off-site precautionary measures required, because of the localised nature of the event," according to the Necsa statement. None of these measurements have however been verified by independent investigators outside Necsa. The National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) has however been notified. Both these agencies are manned by ANC-government officials - and there are no independent scientists who could verify the accuracy of the Necsa claims inside South Africa.
Mike Kantey, national chairman for The Coalition Against Nuclear energy, said he was very concerned about Monday's emergency.
'We need assurances from the NNR that no iodine escaped'
"We need assurances from the NNR that no iodine escaped - and it's only the NNR that has the equipment to check for this - I think they are on site now," Kantey said. "We are totally reliant on the NNR in cases like this - we are reliant only on their credentials to find out if iodine is present."
No civil society for independent verification:
He added that iodine was responsible for illnesses that followed the disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in the Ukraine in 1986. Kantey said it was also a matter of concern that the NNR did not have a civil society representative on its board.
"This is an occasion when we need such a person," he said, adding that the post had been vacant since June 2008. The NNR could not be reached for comment. see