THE South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) failed to timeously register a "breach of security" at one of its facilities in April with the National Nuclear Regulator, according to documents in Business Day's possession.

Although Necsa did later register the "nuclear occurrence" on June 1, it did not comply with the regulator's directives, and did not include remedial and corrective actions within the specified time frame. The regulator has taken Necsa to task for its "lack of seriousness and urgency" regarding the incident.

As South Africa looks to ramp up its nuclear programme, nuclear security and safety are in the spotlight, with critics citing these points as key reasons not to develop the nuclear industry in South Africa.

In April, the regulator suspended the receipt of nuclear waste from Necsa and the Koeberg power station, following noncompliance by the corporation at its Vaalputs nuclear waste storage facility.

A source involved in South Africa's nuclear industry described the April security breach as "serious", but the regulator yesterday said it did not qualify as such according to incident classification, as "a serious incident would have involved exposure of workers and/or the public to a harmful release of radiation".

Neither Necsa nor the regulator would divulge details about the incident. Van Zyl de Villiers, Necsa's group executive for strategy and performance, said yesterday: "A reportable incident that pertained to a security breach occurred on the said date.. The incident has been fully investigated by Necsa, and the (regulator) is in possession of a report together with remedial actions proposed by Necsa."

A letter from the regulator to Necsa, dated June 25, notes that it had to instruct Necsa to report the April 28 occurrence and submit a report within 72 hours. While Necsa did submit a report, the letter states, it was 10 days after the deadline and did not contain remedial and corrective actions.

Moreover, the regulator directed Necsa to explain, by June 27, "Necsa's lack of seriousness and urgency in responding to this breach of security (and) why Necsa conducts an investigation . only after the (regulator) has directed them to conduct such an investigation, and more so conducting the investigation after the deadline for submitting the report".

The regulator's CEO, Boyce Mkhize, said yesterday "the issue of deadlines is . always a subject of mutual engagement between the regulator and the operator and the (regulator) is quite satisfied that a comprehensive response has been submitted".

This is a much more conciliatory tone than that adopted in the letter sent to Necsa and signed by T Tselane, the senior manager for compliance assurance and enforcement at the regulator. One consequence of noncompliance, noted in the letter, is that the regulator "reserves the right to pursue prosecution of this matter with the relevant authorities".

But Mr Mkhize said there would be no prosecution. Mr de Villiers said Necsa had submitted a "detailed follow-up report" on July 6. This "included a root cause analysis as well as remedial, corrective and preventative actions already taken".

wilds@bdfm.co.za