The South African Nuclear Energy Corporation’s (Necsa’s) NTP Radioisotopes arm, which won the AtomExpo Award for the best project in the nonenergy-related use of nuclear energy, on Monday, is back at full production, with both hot cells at its Pelindaba facility in full operation.
The facility was shut down in November 2017, owing to safety issues, and production was only resumed in February this year.
NTP is a global supplier of radiation-based products for the healthcare industry, as well as for industrial uses.
“This is a positive development as the halting of production created anxiety in the market both locally and globally,” Necsa corporate communication and stakeholder relations GM Nikelwa Tengimfene told Engineering News Online.
She added that the NTP board recommended that certain executives be placed on special leave, pending an investigation into what led to the halting of production.
This, she said, was mainly to afford space for a thorough investigation in terms of the root cause of the safety deviations.
“The process is still unfolding, and it is premature to make any public announcements in this regard,” he noted.
Meanwhile, accepting the AtomExpo award, in Sochi, Russia, on Monday, Necsa chairperson Dr Kelvin Kemm said it was “wonderful for South Africa to be recognised as world leaders in nuclear medicine.”
“We are looking forward to doubling our output and reaching further into Africa. We’ve had interest from the Middle East and South America, as well as continental Europe to expand even further with our nuclear medicine than the 60 countries that we export to now,” he noted.
The project started with theoretical feasibility studies in 2007 and cold experiments were completed in 2008.
It took about ten years to convert the process from highly enriched uranium to low enriched uranium, including getting the necessary national and international regulatory approvals.
“We are running at a profit. Last year, the turnover for nuclear medicine alone was R1.4-billion, of which R80-million was paid to the South African Revenue Service,” said Kemm.
NTP has the second-largest market share globally for radioisotopes and has deliveries taking place three times a day internationally.
“We are the major supplier to the US and we hope to expand dramatically,” said Kemm.
Necsa, meanwhile, continues to face financial stress, owing to the underperformance of its Pelchem subsidiary, which incurred a R35.5-million loss in the last financial year.
“The Pelchem situation is showing improvement, as it has made a small profit in the last two quarters. I can confidently say that financial relief is on the way. It is important to emphasise that Necsa is meeting its financial obligations and on time,” said Tengimfene.
*Anine Killian is attending the AtomExpo in Russia as a guest of Rosatom.