NTP Radioisotopes (NTP), a subsidiary of the State-owned South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa), is expected to make a loss of R224-million this year, compared with profits of R108-million last year and R184-million in 2017. This was stated in a written reply to a Parliamentary question by Energy Minister Jeff Radebe.
Safety concerns halted NTP’s radioisotope production from November 2017 to February 2018 and then again from May 2018 to November 2018. The company’s radioisotopes are mainly used in nuclear medicine. (During the period February 2018 to May 2018, NTP produced radioisotopes in what the Minister described, in his written answer, as “limited runs”.)
Since last November, it “has been producing steadily for local customers and international customers”, stated Radebe. NTP is producing and dispatching both Molybdenum-99 and Iodine-131 radioisotopes.
While the shutdowns did not result in NTP losing any customers, its market share was “severely eroded”. However, the company firmly believes that it will re-establish its market share within 15 months. “There is [a] continuous effort to communicate with customers on production status.
“New strategies, plans and systems were developed to strengthen safety standards and performance of the operations,” pointed out Radebe. “International and local experts were also allowed to come and assess the operations. In particular, the [National Nuclear] Regulator played a crucial role in guarding and monitoring to ensure compliance. A culture of heightened safety awareness and performance has been established, which will promote sustainability and the ongoing growth and development of the company.”
The board halted the disciplinary processes against senior executives at NTP, instead putting them through “a counselling process aimed at addressing the mistakes identified”. This, he reported, had a beneficial effect on NTP’s performance.
“The plant is building on its history of outstanding excellence and performance under the leadership of the outstanding executives,” affirmed Radebe. “Staff morale is high and the lessons learnt from many months of the shutdown have enhanced focus on both safety and performance. Production levels are increasing and the global market is responding positively.”
NTP makes use of nuclear elements produced by Necsa’s Safari-1 research reactor to manufacture its radioisotopes. Safari-1 was in no way involved in the safety issues at NTP. Prior to the safety shutdowns, between eight- and ten-million medical procedures a year were carried out in more than 60 countries using radioisotopes produced by NTP. Millions of lives were saved worldwide.