Nuclear security breach: Minister must investigate
Lance Greyling, Shadow Minister of Energy
12 July 2012
I have today written to the Minister of Energy, Ms Dipuo Peters, to request that she conduct a ministerial inquiry into the recent security breach at the Pelindaba nuclear facility. The investigation should establish the threats to nuclear security and make known to the public what measures are being implemented to prevent further breaches. The need for an investigation is strengthened by the fact that the incident occurred on 28 April but was only reported to the regulator on 1 June.
According to the international Nuclear Threat Initiative, Pelindaba contains 600kg of weapons-grade uranium (sufficient to build 20 nuclear bombs). The recent breach is the third in seven years.
South Africa’s National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) has downplayed the incident, insisting that it was not overly concerned and that sufficient plans are in place to prevent another security breach.
But this is not an issue which can simply be kept under the radar. That the latest breach was ‘unsuccessful’ does not reduce its significance. Five years ago four gunmen were able to bypass a 10 000 V electric perimeter fence “and move around the premises undetected for 45 minutes” before shooting the emergency control manager.
The international concern around our nuclear security is mounting. A nuclear security researcher at the Council on Foreign Relations in the US, Micah Zenko, has called for an investigation into the Pelindaba breaches. Harvard nuclear specialist Matthew Bunn has co-written a report which reveals that regulations requiring the protection of nuclear sites against threats have yet to be formally enforced at Pelindaba. Furthermore, the facility has not yet committed itself to eliminating hundreds of kilograms of weapons-grade highly enriched uranium, nor has it ratified an amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material.
At a time when South Africa’s nuclear future is racked with uncertainty, it is imperative that the Department of Energy make every effort to ensure that nuclear facilities are safe in every way – both from accident and security threats. Communicating these efforts and their outcomes to the public is the least the Minister can do to allay growing and legitimate fears around SA’s nuclear industry.