Pretoria - The approval by the Cabinet for the replacement of the Safari-1 nuclear reactor plant at Pelindaba, west of Pretoria, will continue to solidify South Africa’s position as one of the top four radio-isotope producers globally.
The decision, made during a virtual special Cabinet meeting on September 14, will see the setting up of the multi-purpose nuclear reactor project to replace the current Safari-1 owned by the SA Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa).
This took into consideration that the reactor had been in operation from 1965 and that its lifespan is due to end in 2030. The Cabinet highlighted the crucial role the plant had played, particularly in providing support in science research, development and innovation in medicine, agriculture, palaeontology and bioscience.
It was decided that the replacement project would be led by a number of related departments under the stewardship of Necsa.
In welcoming the decision, Necsa group chief executive Loyiso Tyabashe said the Cabinet’s approval of Safari-1’s replacement marked a major milestone for South Africa, the continent and the world.
He said this would not only ensure the country remained among the top four global radio-isotope producers, but also ensure the continuation of research and development on nuclear technology.
“This places Necsa on a path to provide much-needed radioactive isotopes for medical and industrial applications, the execution of research through beamlines, and much-needed jobs for the economy.”
According to the Nuclear Energy Corporation, the reactor would provide a multitude of options to produce new radio-isotopes that were considered the future in therapeutic nuclear medicine.
These would include the production of short-range radio-isotopes that could be delivered by smart delivery systems to tumour cells and thereby eliminate the cancer while preserving surrounding healthy tissue.
Furthermore, Necsa detailed how the reactor would be able to expand research capabilities and outputs, as it would also be equipped with a cold neutron source.
“The inclusion of a cold neutron source in the multipurpose reactor will also make it the only cold-neutron source in Africa, and as such stands to attract interest from the region and the continent,” Necsa said.
“It is geared towards ensuring that the provision of health-care benefits to the South African community
are maintained, enhanced and rendered secure for the foreseeable future through local production with respect to diagnostic and therapeutic radiopharmaceuticals,” Tyabashe explained.
Necsa Board chairperson David Nicholls said the project would generate 5 000 direct and 26 000 indirect jobs created during the construction phase.
The nuclear reactor will provide 750 full-time jobs and an additional 3 800 indirect jobs for its operation and the fulfilment of the corporation’s research mandate at the Neutron Beam Lite Centre, which is set to act as a new large-scale research hub.
“At the end of the day, the multi-purpose reactor project is expected to have significant social, economic and environmental benefits for the country,” Nicholls added.