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South African nuclear regulator effective, but health dept's radiation control lacks capacity – IAEA

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South African nuclear regulator effective, but health dept's radiation control lacks capacity – IAEA

Photo by Duane Daws
National Nuclear Regulator CEO Mzubanzi Bismark Tyobeka

15th December 2016

By: Keith Campbell
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

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South Africa's National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) is in good shape, but the oversight of radiation safety in the country, which is the responsibility of the Directorate of Radiation Control of the Department of Health (DoH), could be improved. These were findings reported at a press conference on Thursday by the Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) mission of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

"It's been an honour to serve as team leader for the IRRS mission to South Africa," affirmed US Nuclear Regulatory Commission executive director for operations Victor McCree. "It's a peer review. We're here at the invitation of the host country. The NNR is a very competent regulator, a very strong regulator, with very capable resources at its disposal."

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He pointed out that the DoH also benefitted from the mission. He noted that they had been able to confirm the department's own assessment that they had an opportunity to improve their capacity and capability.

"The peer review is a review conducted by the members [of the IAEA]. The role of the agency is to facilitate this. The peer review upholds nuclear safety at the national and international level," explained IAEA Nuclear Installation Safety Division director Greg Rzentkowski. Regarding the Directorate of Radiation Control, he observed that the mission had concluded that improvements need to be made in the area of radiation safety. The mission also believed that restructuring was required to achieve these improvements. Regulation of radiation control also had to be independent.

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"We did not identify any specific incidents or trend in events that suggest there is a public health and safety concern regarding radiation safety in South Africa," assured McCree. "There is an opportunity to strengthen the framework for those responsible for radiation safety oversight in South Africa, including organisational structure and funding."

They had identified two policy issues – the independence of radiation safety regulation; and an initiative in South Africa to merge the Directorate of Radiation Control with the NNR. The IRRS mission had had a substantial discussion with their local colleagues on the benefits of a single regulator and the mission suggested that the process of creating one be accelerated.

"The IAEA identified this [issue]," stated NNR CEO Mzubanzi Bismark Tyobeka. "[But] we [had also] identified this as a policy discussion." The NNR has already held talks with the Directorate of Radiation Control and with the director general and deputy director general of the DoH. The aim is to find ways of incorporating the Directorate of Radiation Control into the NNR.

He pointed out that the DoH had admitted serious capacity problems with Radiation Control and would prefer if it could be subsumed under the NNR. Discussions were under way between the NNR, the Department of Energy (DoE), the DoH and the Directorate of Radiation Control. "We have a steering committee looking into this merger."

"Government takes the outcomes of the IRRS very seriously," stated DoE deputy director general Zizamele Mbambo. "There are internal discussions looking into the harmonisation of the regulatory framework. These discussions are continuing. There have been engagements and they are ongoing."

The IRRS mission to South Africa was totally unconnected with the country's plans to greatly expand its nuclear electricity generation capacity. However, it will benefit the NNR should that nuclear new build programme go ahead.

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