PARLIAMENTARY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE ORAL SUBMISSION: NUCLEAR ENERGY IN SOUTH AFRICA
HISTORIC PRECEDENT OF INSTITUTIONAL CONTROL, MONITORING AND MANAGEMENT OF HAZARDOUS WASTE, P ARTICULARL Y URANIUM: WONDERFONTEINSPRUIT CATCHMENT
The following is submitted with deference and diffidence, but not with timidity since the matter of U contamination and the handling of hazardous waste are of appreciable magnitude. U is, as you may reflect, radio-active and chemically toxic. The half life of U is 10 8 to 10 10. It therefore implies a long term hazard or risk.
Prefatory or preliminary to my submissions, permit me please to briefly advert to the Law of Evidence.
LAW OF EVIDENCE
In terms of the law of evidence, evidence of reputation or general character is admissible in a Court of Law in order to adduce evidence or to suggest that it is likely or unlikely that a person of historic reputation or record would have committed the offence with which he is charged. Evidence can be adduced of either good character or bad reputation.
For the purpose of our discussion I shall adduce evidence of the historic precedents which were established regarding institutional control, the monitoring and management of hazardous waste, particularly uranium and its radioactive daughter or transformation products, such as thorium, radium; radon and radon gas and the enforcement of environmental legislation pertaining to hazardous waste. From the past or historical performance of organs of state, particularly the DME, the NNR and the DW AF we can then arrive at the conclusion whether there had been poor or good institutional control regarding hazardous waste, particularly U. The historic management and monitoring of U has relevancy because of the proposed pebble bed modular technology.
HISTORICAL PRECEDENT: WONDERFONTEINSPRUIT
A historical precedent of U contamination and the handling of hazardous waste have been established in the Wonderfonteinspruit catchment.
In terms of official scientific Reports, inter alia the WRC Report 1095/1/02, the WRC Report 1214/1/06, entitled An Assessment of Sources, Pathways, Mechanisms and Risks of Current and Potential Future Pollution of Water and Sediments in Gold-Mining Areas 'of the Wonderfonteinspruit Catchment and the Wetlands Report, 2005 of the Council of GeoScience it was found that the uranium concentration at many of the sites sampled, inside and outside mine property, significantly exceeds the legislated exclusion limit for regulatory control. 16mg/kg uranium is equivalent to an activity concentration of 0,2Bq/g, the limit for regulatory control set by the NNR is 0,5Bq/g. The National Nuclear Regulator was called upon to take a regulatory decision in this regard.
The NNR responded by disclaiming the radiological (carcinogenic) health risk quotient of the U by stating that tl1e assessment was based upon the US Environmental Protection Agency methodology and not upon international methodology. The NNR undertook to conduct its own investigation and to make the findings available to the public. At the time of this submission, the NNR has not made the findings available. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, the findings of the WRC. Report 1214 therefore hold.
The WRC Report No 1214 found that:
· the tailings dams contain 100 000 tons of U;
· the gold mining industry discharges 50 tons of U into the water courses annually;
· 24 tons of U is discharged into the receiving water courses from seepage or percolation from tailings dams. We are credibly informed by the learned authors that the levels of U concentrations in the seepage water are 1 000 to 1 million times higher than the background U concentrations;
· 12 tons of U is discharged from point discharges
· 10 tons of U is discharged from storm water discharges
sinkholes that had historically been filled with uraniferous tailings will become secondary sources of U contamination after mine closure, when pre-mining flow patterns and volumes restore itself.
- Sediments in the
- One specific dam, the Andreis Coetzee's farm dam has concentrations of up to 900 mg/kg.
At present the U and other heavy metals, such as cadmium, copper, zinc, arsenic and cobalt are adsorbed in the sediment. Plausible environmental conditions such
- Acid mine drainage
- Acid rain
~ Drying out of the sediment and influx of water
- Dredging operations
- Tailings spillages
- Turbulence caused by cattle drinking the water or children playing in the water can cause the mobilization or transport of uranium in the Wonderfonteinspruit.
We here refer our esteemed listeners to what had happened in 2002 in the KrugersorpRandfontein area where water has started to decant from a number of shafts into the rates of HIV / Aids and chronic and acute malnutrition is particularly vulnerable to additional stress of the immune system by contaminants such as uranium.
Risks associated with the ingestion of riverbank material by young children and pregnant mothers - 'pica' - are widespread in rural African communities and are not quantified. It is worth noticing that uraniferous salt crusts were found to contain extremely high concentrations of uranium 9up to 1 100mg/kg.)
At the time of this submission, there had been no efforts on the part of organs of state to create awareness of the risks or hazards amongst affected communities.
At the time of this submission there has been no epidemiological studies done in order to determine pathways of contamination or health impacts. Abundant anecdotal evidence, however, exists of mental retardation, pancreatic cancers, etc .
Strong institutional control is required to prevent the remobilization of U into the water column. Regrettably institutional control has been poor.
PROMULGATED ACTS OF PARLIAMENT
The duty of care provisions contained in both then National Water Act, No 36 of 1998 and the National Environmental Management Act, No 107 of 1998, and the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, No 28 of 2002 create a general duty not to pollute and remediate where pollution has been caused. In addition, these provisions create retrospective liability.
Under both the MPRDA And NEMA (and by implication the NWA). Liability is specifically extended to the director of the business concern in his or her personal capacity, i.e personal liability
· MPRDA section 38(2): Notwithstanding the Companies Act, 1973 (Act No. 61 of 1973), or the Close Corporations Act, 1984 (Act No 69 of 1984), the directors of a company or members of a close corporation are jointly and severally liable; for any unacceptable negative impact on the environment, including damage, degradation or pollution; advertently or inadvertently caused by company or close corporation which they represent or represented, inside and outside the mine property.
· Under section 19(4) of the NW A costs to prevent further pollution or degradation or to make the area safe can be recovered from any other person who benefited from the remediation measures to the extent of such benefits.
of liability is provided for in NEMA and the NW A, but not under the MPRDA
since the holder of the right or permit is deemed to be the responsible person.
If more than one person is liable under the NW A, "the responsible
authority (D WAF or CMA) agency must apportion the liability, but such
apportionment does not relieve any of them of their joint and several liability
for the full amount of the
costs" (section 19). Liability may also be apportioned by DEAT in terms of NEMA section 28(11): If more than one person is liable, "...the liability must be apportioned among the persons concerned according to the degree to which each was responsible for the harm to the environment resulting from their respective failures to take the measures required.
Regrettably, in a written response to question raised in Parliament in March 2007, the honourable Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry, stated that "No steps are being taken to lay criminal charges against past polluters.
By the failure of the relevant organs of state to have taken timeous actions against polluters and to enforce the Polluter must Pay principle, ordinary taxpayers, who have no connection whatsoever to the harm and degradation caused by historic and current gold mining activities, and derived no benefit from it, are now compelled to carry the costs that is the health costs, the ecological degradation, the loss of agricultural potential, the pollution of ground and surface water.
The only way we can judge future environmental performance is by historic precedents. Poor institutional control and failure to adequately monitor and manage the U contamination of the Wonderfonteinspruit, and to enforce the Polluter must Pay principle have resulted in long term ecological degradation and pollution and an inequitable and unfair externalization the costs upon the general public. It is trusted that this historic precedent will stand as testimony in the assessment of the foreseeable environmental impacts of the pebble bed modular technology