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Doubts on future of South Africa’s nuclear research reactors, with glut of medical isotopes, and with particle accelerator production

SA nuclear radio-isotope production facility back in business, but… Money Web, 22 Nov 18

Earlier shutdown resulted in shortages to SA’s government hospitals, global market.

The facility is the main supplier of medical nuclear radio-isotopes such as Molybdenum-99 in Africa, and one of only four such facilities globally. As a result of safety procedure lapses, the plant was shut down in November 2017, which lasted almost a full year. Several attempts had been made in the interim to restart the plant, but without success.

The process of rectifying shortcomings and bringing the operating and safety procedures in line with the requirements of the NNR has been marred by what appears to be conflict between NTP and its parent company, the Necsa……..

The initial shutdown occurred in November 2017 as a result of procedural errors. It appears that calibration of hydrogen sensors, an important component in the safety chain, had not been carried out correctly, and that records were not being kept properly. This was considered to be a critical safety issue, and the plant was shut down by the NNR.

An investigation was held which resulted in the suspension of a number of NTP staff. Following a number of further senior executive and staff replacements, suspensions and reinstatements, Necsa placed its own employees in charge of the plant, who then attempted to rectify the problems and restart the production facility.
………Several incidents occurred which caused restarts to be halted or abandoned. One example that has been cited is the institution of various changes to parameters which were unrelated to the cause of problems. The reasons for Necsa’s actions in this regard are unclear……

following an announcement during the recent Brics Summit in Sandton of a cooperation agreement in the field of nuclear medicine between NTP and Rusatom, the nuclear medical subsidiary of Russian state-owned nuclear company Rosatom, there are some questions as to whether a second or replacement nuclear research reactor will be built.
NTP said that the current global production over-capacity of medical radio-isotopes does not justify a second nuclear research reactor, since the Safari-1 reactor at Pelindaba still has between 15 and 20 years of life, and this could be extended still further. The Safari-1 nuclear reactor produces medical nuclear radio-isotopes by bombarding target plates of low-enriched uranium with neutrons.

Furthermore, medical nuclear radio-isotopes can also be produced by particle accelerators such as cyclotrons, which could make the consDtruction of second or replacement nuclear research reactor unnecessary, the company said.

There are also concerns regarding the financial health of Necsa. The Auditor-General has raised ongoing concerns about inadequate financial provisions by Necsa for decommissioning and dismantling costs for the Safari-1 reactor end-of-life.

As a result, Necsa’s annual financial statements for the year ending March 31, which were due to be published by end September 2018, have still not been tabled.

November 24, 2018 - Posted by | health, South Africa


  1. Medical isotopes. Oxymoron. I worked in oncology. They do more harm thaan good. More often than not, they decrease chances of cancer recovery. They cause severe, disabling, body injury. Radionuclide isotopes cause secondary cancers in cancer treatment victims.
    For every 1 cancer patient, a few hundred people have to come in contact with the radionuclide isotopes, and risk getting cancer, radionuclide radiation poisoning, bone poisoning, blood poisoning, sterility, have children with radiation induced deformities. What a joke!
    There is no safe way to dispose of them.
    They are iatrogenic poisons. They are essentially hilevel nuclear waste that are misused.

    It takes 100 bilions of a gram of iodine 131 to kill you. Any less just kills you. Same for cesium 134/137 and all the radioisotopes which also happen to be the worst radioactive fallout of reactors and bombs. Also happen to be the worst nuclear waste!

    Comment by Ken | November 24, 2018 | Reply

    • Some truth, but not all truth, in what you say, Ken. I too have worked in oncology, and nuclear medicine does save lives, and prolong lives. Most medical isotopes have very short half lives, and are very useful in diagnosis. However, I do agree that they are often over-used, and that nuclear medicine can and does pose risks to workers and to family members of a patient. As for their use in diagnosis, – well, they can still be produced in a cyclotron – no need for a nuclear reactor.

      Comment by Christina MacPherson | November 24, 2018 | Reply

  2. Agree with you, a lot Christina.
    People like you know are well-versed and studied about cyclotron-generated imaging materials.
    You have several years of intensive literature reviews and your own work experience, with it professionally.

    The use of cyclotron-generated imaging materials with short half-lives, is much safer for health workers, technicians, and patients than reactor isotopes.

    They are also safer because, prolonged exposure to x-rays, from things like ct-scans and radioarteriograms are very dangerous to surgeons, workers, and patients.

    I feel like gamma knives, that contain gamma emiters like cobalt 60, or cesium 137 might prolong life a little while, in some people with diffuse-inoperable cancers.

    Those isotopes come from reactors. They are far more dangerous than plutonium or uranium. There are problems with Creating the containment for them and exposure to them. Workers risk illness, sterility, cancer.
    What to do with this radioactive later?

    Seeds made with beta-gamma emitors like radioactive iodine and radioactive cesium maybe somewhat helpful for bradytherapy,in prostate cancer but, the materials are dangerous to handle and can cause other cancers and illness in the patients.

    They do have better surgical techniques and advanced-targeted immune cancer and chemo regimens now, than using radiophramaceuticals and radioactive implant techniques now. The risk to benefits ratio and danger in handling them exceeds their utility in my opinion.

    All the people involved in the chain of creating, delivering, and disposing of those dangerous radionuclides and, reducing them for treatment are vulnerable to radionuclide exposure or even absorption

    People who get extremely weak solutions of iodine 131 to kill their thyroids are at risk for secondary cancers.

    It might be better to do surgery and more targeted antibody therapy for thyroid cancer or thyroid abnormalities, like those observed in fukushima than deal with fhe risk of radionuclide medical treatment.

    You are an awesome person Christina! Thanks to you , Sean, Dun for all your hard work and information! I knew a bit but, I have learned a lot from

    Comment by Ken | November 26, 2018 | Reply

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