Fallout over nuclear meds sale rumours

Published Dec 12, 2018


JOHANNESBURG – Energy Minister Jeff Radebe allegedly intends to sell state-owned producer of nuclear medicine NTP Radioisotopes to US-based Lantheus Medical Imaging (LMI), a global leader in the field of diagnostic imaging, according to a source close to the entity.

The Energy Department yesterday declined to comment on the allegations and referred Business Report to a press statement it released on Friday.

The source claimed Radebe’s hasty removal of the Nuclear Energy Corporation of SA (Necsa) board last week and placing chief executive Phumzile Tshelane on precautionary leave was an attempt to pave the way for the sale.

“The Minister wanted to sell NTP Radioisotopes to LMI, but the board refused to do so. This is the reason for the decision to dissolve the board in a rush,” the source said.

The allegations follow Radebe stating on Friday that he had axed the board because of defiant acts.

NTP Radioisotopes supplies almost a third of the world's medical isotopes and resumed production last month, a year after it was closed because of safety concerns.

Prior to its closure due to a safety scare, it generated an annual turnover of R1.3 billion, making it one of the country's few profitable state-owned entities.

Massachusetts-based LMI is a long-time customer of NTP Radioisotopes, a Necsa subsidiary that produces radioisotopes that are vital for the diagnosis and treatment of various cancers. 

International law firm Covington wrote a letter to Radebe in March this year on behalf of LMI to express an interest in partnering with NTP Radioisotope.


“Lantheus is interested to discuss ways in which it and other organisations can assist NTP, including training programmes and investments or other forms of engagement,” said the letter, which is in possession of the DA.

LMI said the closure of NTP Radioisotopes had also had a negative impact on the company's ability to supply its customers in the US.

It had also resulted in the delay and cancellation of life-saving diagnostic medical procedures, it said.

LMI has over the past 10 years purchased $150 million (R2.14 billion) worth of Molybdenum-99 from NTP. The company also concluded a three-year supply agreement with NTP in December last year.

Radebe on Friday dismissed the DA’s allegations that he stood to financially benefit from the removal of the board and the LMI deal as “complete balderdash”.

The allegations follow Radebe's dissolution last week of the Necsa board after alleging that deliberate acts of defiance had posed threats to NTP Radioisotopes' global market share. 

Radebe also placed Necsa chief executive Phumzile Tshelane on precautionary leave and announced plans to launch an investigation into irregularities at the entity, which exports nuclear medicines to 60 countries.

Radebe appointed Rob Adam as the new board chairperson and Don Robertson, a former NTP Radioisotopes managing director, as interim chief executive 48 hours after the axing of the board.

“The board was put together before allegations were levelled against the board, which is against the law,” said the source.


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