Pretoria, November 16 2018
South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Energy Thembisile Majola has praised the efforts of NTP Radioisotopes’ executive, its technical team, and staff who, this week, got the green light from the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) to resume production of essential medical radioisotopes at its Pelindaba facilities. NTP, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Necsa, will start with preliminary production readiness runs followed by normal full production runs. The Deputy Minister also acknowledged the NNR for the guidance and independent oversight provided to ensure this process was undertaken ensuring the highest levels of safety standards were enforced.
NTP’s processing plant had been effectively shut down since November 2017 following a series of safety-related issues. The shutdown impacted significantly on the supply of medical radioisotopes both locally and to the international market, of which NTP had previously been one of only four global suppliers. The Minister of Energy assumed direct oversight of NTP’s Board through the Deputy Minister in early September to address shortages of this key international isotope.
“Our priority was to facilitate an uncompromised safe return to reliable supply of this active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) from South Africa to the global nuclear medicine fraternity”, said Majola, “with the emphasis being on safety and reliability.” The Deputy Minister added that while the NNR’s processes were sometimes seen as time-consuming, they were essential to the outcome. “The nuclear regulator’s primary mandate is to ensure that all safety standards are met, so that we can achieve safe operating conditions. The uncompromised integrity and independence of their work is what protects us all,’ she said.
Chairperson of NTP Dr Namane Magau praised the leadership of both the Deputy Minister of Energy, and the guidance and critical oversight from the licence holder and the National Nuclear Regulator. “Without the vision and commitment of our strategic partners at both the Department of Energy, as our ultimate shareholder, and the NNR’s focus on safety, the sterling efforts of the NTP staff would not have succeeded.”
NTP Group MD Tina Eboka also commended the efforts of NTP’s engineers, other technical and regulatory staff, who worked tirelessly to return the plant to service following being allowed access after July this year. “The extended shutdown was unfortunate but it was also an extremely valuable lesson for everyone in the group,” she said. “Ultimately it has strengthened our working relationship and appreciation of the role of the regulator, and it has without a doubt strengthened our corporate safety culture.”
With production resuming, NTP will now begin the challenging task of rebuilding customer trust and regaining lost business. “Before the shutdown we were a profitable R1,3-billion turnover company,” said Eboka. “Right now, we need to focus on returning to those levels of success as quickly and as reasonably possible and position NTP for sustained growth over the medium term. Now, with the approval of the NNR and the support of the Ministry, and Necsa as the licence holder, we can focus on a strategy of consolidation, and then growth.”
NTP Group, which currently employs over 470 people, is the largest contributor to state nuclear revenues, and was previously a significant earner of foreign exchange.
Deputy Minister Majola added that NTP has historically made a significant contribution to South Africa’s socio-economic development, and that the department is committed to ensuring South Africa retains its position as a globally recognised centre of excellence in nuclear technology, and not just in nuclear energy. “We have an excellent leadership team here at NTP. We are already licensing NTP products and technology around the world. NTP has won international awards for its innovations in the peaceful uses of nuclear. We have a remarkable legacy of specialised expertise in South Africa, and in the Necsa Group, and this includes growing new generations of highly skilled nuclear scientists and engineers. We don’t need to import technology, or people, when we have a world-class solution right here,’ concluded Majola.