Carcinogenic, Radioactive Isotopes Emitted at Koeberg

Cape Times (South Africa), September 4, 2006 | Go to article overview

Carcinogenic, Radioactive Isotopes Emitted at Koeberg


BYLINE: Mike Kantey

Tom Ferreira of PBMR (Pty) Ltd saw fit to attack Maya Aberman of Earthlife Africa in an article which dealt at length with allegations of difficulties in the European Union with nuclear power stations (Cape Times, August 23). I have no wish to contest this particular debate, but a few of Ferreira's remarks are contentious indeed.

The article opens with a mischievous suggestion about "those of us who care deeply about the environment and (who) want the most benevolent possible energy for the future ..." . This is disingenuous, to say the least, coming from a spokesman for a commercial enterprise whose sole purpose is to make money, whatever the environmental impact.

The core of his statement is precisely what the real nuclear debate hinges upon, however: is the base-load generation of electricity from nuclear power what the country really wants? And is the production of such electricity from nuclear power truly clean and environmentally friendly - not only during our own lifetimes but for generations to come?

In 2005, I was commissioned by Earthlife Africa, Cape Town branch, to examine a set of annual reports from 1983 to the Second Quarter of 2003, produced by the Environmental Survey Laboratory (ESL) at Koeberg Nuclear Power Station (KNPS), as well as a similar batch of loose-leaf photostats from 1984 onwards, tabling the gaseous and liquid effluents from KNPS.

The data contained in the reports themselves showed how KPNS had been systematically allowed by the authorities to release substantial quantities of the long-lived, carcinogenic radioactive isotopes Strontium-90 and Cesium-137 and that the official criteria for reporting had been inflated dramatically over the last two decades.

In the 1980s the internal reports focused extensively on beta activity in air and foodstuffs, but still denied any connection between the appearance of radioactivity from ambient Strontium-90 and Cesium-137 to actual emissions from KNPS, even while demonstrating extensive emissions by operational gaseous and liquid releases. These same routine emissions and appearances outside the confines of the nuclear reactor building complex were systematically under-reported, or obfuscated, through a repeated and undifferentiated appeal to external causes.

One of these causes was attributed to above-ground nuclear weapons testing. Further research proved this assertion to be false, since the scientific literature over five decades showed conclusively that little of that radioactive fallout penetrated south of the equator.

Attention was then diverted to a desperate and at times vain search for a cause among recipients of radio-therapy among local Melkbosstrand residents, although neither the presence in sewage effluent at Melkbosstrand of Strontium-90 nor of cesium-137 in the air could be attributable to such therapy.

Nevertheless, the actual, regular and deliberate release of carcinogenic, long-lived radioactive isotopes through routine emissions was further drowned out by an overwhelming flood of irrelevant and meticulously argued data of no consequence.

During the transition to democracy, moreover, and faced with the threat of an ever more open democracy, the authorities saw fit to manipulate the data by substantially increasing the levels of Annual Authorised Discharge Quantities (AADQs), and by averaging the discharges over 12-month periods - even though the bulk of routine emissions took place in the last quarter of each year. In some cases, where the actual threats appear to have become increasingly alarming, the authorities simply stopped reporting on the problem altogether.

This must be understood in the context of increasing mobilisation among anti-nuclear structures and the perceived threat of local and national challenges to the hegemonic rule of Eskom, and other organs of State, in support of the current regime's new and aggressive nuclear energy policy. …

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Carcinogenic, Radioactive Isotopes Emitted at Koeberg
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