Pretoria — Although South Africa can learn from Japan's Fukushima incident, the country's nuclear installations can withstand natural events, the National Nuclear Regulator said on Thursday.
Briefing reporters following an assessment of reports from Eskom and the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) - which aimed to identify vulnerabilities in the design of facilities as well as identify necessary modifications to be implemented where needed - Chief Executive Officer
Advocate Boyce Mkhize said valuable lessons were to be learnt from the March 2011 incident.
"One of the key lessons we learnt out of this is that we must not make any assumptions about anything when it comes to issues of safety. If there's any assumption to be made at least we must be assuming the worst and how to prepare ourselves against the worst possible incident that can occur. I think that is one of the fundamental lessons that came out," he explained.
On assuming the worst, plans to address the issues must be in place.
Japan's Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant was crippled by the devastating 11 March earthquake and ensuing tsunami that struck the Pacific coastal areas of north-eastern and eastern Japan. The country raised the severity level of the accident at the facility to seven, the worst on an international scale.
Following the incident, the NNR instructed both Eskom and Necsa to conduct safety reassessment reports of their nuclear plants namely Koeberg and the Necsa-owned Safari 1 tank-in-pool type materials testing reactor in Pelindaba. The NNR received the reports from both entities in December last year.
"The nuclear installations at both Necsa and Eskom facilities are adequately designed, maintained and operated to withstand all external natural events considered in the original design base," said the CEO following the review of the reports.
Preliminary reviews suggest that compared with the design against earthquakes, the design of Fukushima against tsunamis may not have been adequate and should have considered the recurrence of large-scale earthquakes in relation to a safety goal.
Other lessons that were to be learnt was that hardened on-site emergency response centres with adequate provisions for communication were necessary and that emergency arrangements should be designed to be robust.
The regulator said it was necessary to factor in issues of possible natural hazards.
It was found that the NNRs regulatory standards and practices are in-line with internationally accepted standards and practises.
However, Mkhize added that areas for strengthening the regulatory regime were identified. These would be addressed as part of the current review of the Regulatory Standards and Practices.
"These areas of improvements incorporates the lessons learnt from Fukushima and ensures that the extreme external hazards and combinations of external events and incorporated in the design, mitigation measures and emergency planning arrangements."
The areas of improvement include the revision of the nuclear authorisation for Safari 1 to include provisions relating to accident management measures.
It was also recommended that the country perform a full self-assessment of all emergency planning and response infrastructures using the IAEA Emergency Preparedness Review.
Meanwhile, both Eskom and Necsa have been directed to implement improvements.
On whether an emergency exercise involving the public would be done, Mkhize said "it's perhaps an issue to look into" adding that the logistics and costs associated should be factored in. "It's an issue we may want to look into with leaders of safety forums."
Additionally, if there were to be terror threats, the regulator expects operators to be prepared for such incidents.
"We don't want to rule that out as potential risks, we expect that the operators should be prepared for such incidents. The fact that we've had relative peace so far doesn't mean that it may not happen in the future.
"The operator has got clear conditions that articulate how they should respond in case of an emergency. Part of conditions is notifying the NNR upon occurrence and touching base with other structures."
On the country's nuclear build programme, he said it was important that focus was placed on hazards.