Right of reply

10th June 2016

Editor –

The Mail & Guardian (M&G) wishes to respond to Dr Kelvin Kemm’s article in Engineering News, published on May 27.

It is fitting that Kemm ends his argument with a reference to the “substantial powers” of the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) and states that the regulator “would not tolerate” any illegal disposal of waste. Last week, that regulator advised the “emergency evacuation” of the material that the M&G and Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Initiative found at a site outside Beaufort West. The regulator said this was because the material “cannot be contained” and is “prone to wind erosion and leaching into the groundwater”. Geiger counter readings found the material to be four times the legal limit.

That would seem to render inaccurate Kemm’s assertion that it is “wrong” to consider that material dangerous. Alternatively, he may be wrong about either the powers of the NNR to make such a declaration or about South Africa being such a model of nuclear compliance. He is, undoubtedly, inaccurate.

That would seem to close the argument. But Kemm calls for “reasoned professionalism” in the nuclear debate, so it would be remiss of the M&G to not address some of the issues that he raises.

First and foremost, it is important to note that Kemm does an admirable job of conflating this paper’s editorial and the article written on a proposed uranium mine outside Beaufort West. This allows him to mix and match elements of both to suit his argument. But an editorial and an article are different things. The former allows for a stance to be taken, while the latter is governed by the overriding need to investigate the truth. Perhaps he should familiarise himself with this before any future interventions.

Kemm also accuses the M&G of being “so overtly full of extreme bias”. If this statement was grounded in fact, he would have noted that the M&G does not have a stance on any form of energy production. It also does not have any investment – emotional or monetary – in the wider debate on nuclear energy. Its reporting deals with the pros and cons of each type of energy. In this case, the dangers of uranium mining – to water and air quality – were serious and needed to be addressed.

The rest of the points he raises are based on pulling at strings to create outrage. His extended focus on the colours of radiation warning signs is a case in point – black-and-yellow signs are universally accepted as the colour scheme to warn of low-level radiation. But to pad his argument, Kemm needs to add superfluous facts. This is a tactic used by lobbyists the world over – from those denying that anthropogenic climate change is real to those that argue for new mining in marginal areas.

As lobbyist-in-chief for the South African nuclear indus- try, Kemm has to attack any article that investigates parts of that industry and finds problems. It would be remiss of him to not do so. It is just a pity that he does not conduct his res- ponse in the same “calm and professional manner” that he asks of the M&G.

Sipho Kings Mail & Guardian