Thursday, November 1, 2007

Open the door for discussion."

“Open the door for discussion…”

Public Enterprises director-general Portia Molefe’s letter to the FM on 12 October 2007 refers:

Dear Portia Molefe

Your 12 October letter to the FM and is noted with grave concern not only for the standard “P.R.” lines which are common from the nuclear industry itself, but for the recalcitrance of senior officials and decision-makers in this country to determine for yourselves the truth about nuclear energy and the nuked workers in our country, let alone nuked communities such as Wonderfonteinspruit and others.

The “alarmist misinformation” you write about is based on hard facts backed up by doctors, scientists and academics which volunteer-based groups with no vested interest other than environmental & social justice have literally been begging this government, from the President down, to consider.

We have a hard-won democracy which came with it a promise of transparent accountability, public participation and the best interests of a nation in terms of a precious constitution and some of the best environmental laws in the world. So why aren’t you more concerned about holding the participatory nuclear summit that was promised, and calling for truly independent Commissions of Inquiry into the abuses of the nuclear sector?

Instead, we’re seeing constitutional rights being over-ridden and our precious laws amended to suit those with vested interests. Polluters aren’t paying, and instead are getting away with “regulating & investigating” themselves with taxpayer funds. Nuked workers from the mining and nuclear sectors are seriously ill or dead and still battling for compensation. Some of these cases will soon be taken to court.

In South Africa, the nuclear industry has operated in complete secrecy in its 40 year existence. Koeberg stands accused of falsifying workers’ records, and Nuclear Energy Corporation of SA (NECSA) stands publicly accused of having deceived parliament this year with statements that no workers have been found “with abnormalities resulting from exposure to radiation”.

It is interesting to note that during the years most people in this country believed nuclear ambitions had been shelved – BEFORE the nuclear “renaissance” was announced - certain information had started becoming available.

For example, around 1999 the Council for Nuclear Safety (CNS) estimated that at least 10,000 mineworkers, or roughly one in 20 mineworkers, were exposed to radiation levels that exceeded safety limits. In 1998, according to CNS estimates, 1 000 employees at Harmony Gold mine alone were exposed to radiation levels that in some instances were three times higher than the annual dose limit of 20 mSv a year. At Nigel, workers were exposed to dose levels of up to 130 mSv a year, or seven times higher than the allowable limit. (Business Report Oct. 7, 1999).

In February this year during the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) portfolio committee briefing of its annual budget, its CEO Mr. Magumela replied to a question that in 2002, 7 931 people had been exposed to unacceptably high doses, but this number had declined year by year to 1133, 424, and 8. He said there had been “an improvement” over the last five years but failed to mention this was as a result of a largely stagnant uranium mining industry at the time.
Necsa’s own annual report of 2003/2004 (the only one now obtainable from their entire existence since 1960) clearly states that – among 12 reported incidents of excessively exposed workers - one individual in their employ received 12.08mSv in the year under review, and that in the previous year another individual received an annual dose of above 36.38nSv. Two other individuals received an annual dose of above 10mSv/a, which is way in excess of the ALARA[1] principle which outlines international limits.
Most international companies average a report of 1 incident every 2 years – 12 admitted incidents reported in one year (2003/2004 under review) are excessive by anyone’s standards.
Has the nuclear industry succeeded in performing a complete coup d’etat over this country’s nuclear & energy policies with its own misleading propaganda? Or why are our decision-makers standing firm in not wanting to know the truth?

Volunteer groups have no vested interest in making up these stories. Over 500 former nuclear workers in the past 3 years have come forward with details about occupational illnesses. Already 17 of these known workers in the Necsa group alone have died in the past two years and at least 24 children are orphans. Are you hoping that all die and the problem goes away?
Murray Coombs, an internationally renowned specialist, examined 208 of the workers. He was barely paid from this work and is not anti-nuclear either. In at least eight cases he found that the worker had been exposed to radiation that Coombs believed had caused their diseases. Each of his diagnoses was backed up by the company’s own records he struggled to obtain. He found indications of another 72 occupational diseases that required further tests for 52 workers. Most he believed were caused by exposure to chemicals rather than radiation. But Earthlife ran out of funds and could not finance the tests. Necsa was requested to conduct the additional tests but refused to allow these workers a representative to monitor the process, instead producing their own white-washed report again at great taxpayer expense.
Dr. Coombs’ conclusion is that there will be a significant increase of disease amongst ex-workers which will only show itself over the next 20 years.

Even the scant official records of both NECSA and the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) documents the over-exposure to radiation of workers. And now our children, genetically deformed from radioactive and chemical contamination, are being born out of the Wonderfonteinspruit.

Radiation affects all life, without exception – people, plants and animals are all affected, be it with leukemia, birth defects, mutations, sterility, or many other potential impacts. There is no debate about whether radiation kills, maims, causes mutations, is cumulative, causes leukemia (mainly in children), cancers, respiratory illnesses and attacks the immune system (with children, pregnant women and the elderly being the most vulnerable).

Stop the slander Portia Molefe! Stop the propaganda! Open your doors to some sobering discussion on the issue before you go ahead and help to prop up a seriously flawed industry which has some evil consequences for our embattled nation. We have been begging you to listen.

Yours sincerely

Dominique Gilbert

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