National Nuclear Regulator: : Why is watchdog being removed? – FF Plus

Wynand Boshoff questions Minister Gwede Mantashe's removal of Peter Becker from board

National Nuclear Regulator: Why is watchdog being removed?

21 January 2022

This week's dismissal of a National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) board member, Mr Peter Becker, by the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Gwede Mantashe, is still having repercussions and raised the question of why the Minister decided to remove the public's watchdog? 

In a letter to Becker's legal representative, Minister Mantashe informed Becker that the board chairperson had obtained a legal opinion on the issue of whether Becker's conduct amounted to conflict of interests with the council. Taking such drastic action raises suspicions about why the watchdog is being removed.

Mantashe has not provided any details about the alleged conduct, but felt that the allegations were so serious that it was best to suspend Becker pending a final decision. Becker may, however, submit written representations as to why he should not be discharged from office.

The background to Becker's appointment on 10 June 2021 and decisions that have since been made regarding the Koeberg power station raise suspicions about the possibility that this may be an attempt to cover up sensitive information.

Becker is an activist for the Koeberg Alert Alliance (KAA), a civil organisation that continually poses critical questions regarding the management of the Koeberg nuclear power station.

The KAA came to the fore during discussions of the possible extension of this particular power station's lifetime, which is due to come to an end quite soon. In the past, there were allegations that the council, with its oversight function over the generation of nuclear power, was being controlled by nuclear power supporters.

Becker's appointment in 2021 was welcomed as it was hoped that his appointment would restore some balance. He has since made his views clear by saying that he prefers a South Africa without nuclear power, but if that is not possible, he wants to ensure that such power is generated safely and that the waste is also dealt with safely.

There were three other appointments that coincided with Becker's appointment, including the appointment of Mr Allan Taylor, who had been a special advisor to a former Energy Minister, Ms Tina Joemat-Pettersson.

She was controversial due to her involvement in the proposed nuclear power agreement with Russia, which was referred to many times during the Zondo Commission's recent hearings. 

Meanwhile, various energy experts expressed uncertainty about, or even opposition to, extending Koeberg's lifetime. The prevalent opinion is that safety standards have risen significantly since Koeberg was designed in the seventies. Thus, ensuring compliance with the current standards would require a completely new power station.

It also raises another question: Can a public enterprise that clearly botched the trusted technology of coal-fired power stations, as was the case with Eskom, really be trusted with something that poses so much more danger for a much longer time, like the Koeberg power station?

Deciding to suspend Becker has tipped the scales once again and the Regulator now finds itself in the same state of imbalance as before his appointment. It is important to note that any regulatory board ought to include persons with diverse viewpoints. It guarantees that uncomfortable truths will not be sugar-coated.

In the FF Plus's view, Becker suspension points to possible problems at Koeberg. The only question is whether these truths are already evident or whether they will come to light soon.

Issued by Wynand Boshoff, FF Plus MP and chief spokesperson: Mineral Resources and Energy, 21 January 2022