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South Africa on the ‘radioactive recycling road’

South Africa – A proposal from the US Department of Energy to mix radioactive metal from nuclear weapons factories with clean scrap has led the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa (NECSA) to start building and testing a radioactive metal smelter at Pelindaba – ‘the birthplace of South Africa’s atomic bombs’, claims non-profit organisation Earthlife Africa.

Three proposed radioactive metal smelters are due to be licensed at the Pelindaba plant in early 2013 despite what are described as ‘flawed’ environmental impact analysis approval processes and a ‘public outcry’ during the public hearings of the National Nuclear Regulator.

According to Judith Taylor, Branch Co-ordinator at Earthlife Africa, the country initiated and ratified the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty – known as the Pelindaba Treaty – and agreed ‘not to take any action to assist or encourage the dumping of radioactive wastes and other radioactive matter anywhere within the African nuclear-weapon-free zone’.

Public and political pressure is essential to stop the plans to intentionally disperse radioactive material, insists Mrs Taylor. ‘What is the difference between dumping and feeding radioactive metal into the recycling stream?’ she asks. ‘If we follow the radioactive ”recycling” road, we are going to dump and disperse nuclear waste – we are going to deliberately contaminate and poison us and our environment.’

Growing volumes of scrap, mainly from decommissioned nuclear reactors, weapons and submarines, are entering the public domain in an uncontrolled manner, claims Earthlife Africa. ‘Even ”low-level” nuclear waste can contain lethally radioactive and long-lived elements, such as Plutonium-239, Strontium-90 and many others,’ it contends.

Mrs Taylor says it will be incredibly difficult to guarantee all the radioactive material can be controlled. ‘Nobody, and no technical solution like air filters, can ensure that,’ she states. ‘That’s why the so-called recycling of radioactive metals is unacceptable.’

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