Judgment on National Nuclear Regulator underlines role of board: nuclear regulation, not nuclear advocacy
The Western Cape High Court judgment against the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy reinstated Koeberg Alert Alliance activist Peter Becker on the National Nuclear Regulator board, in a win for civil society, independence and transparency
Judgment on National Nuclear Regulator underlines role of board: regulation, not nuclear advocacy
The Western Cape High Court judgment last week which reinstated a civil society activist on the board of the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) clarifies the board’s role in ensuring safety standards rather than propagating for nuclear energy.
The court found that Peter Becker’s engagements with civil society organisations during his board tenure (in his capacity as a civil society member not a board member) do not amount to a conflict of interest and that his removal from the board was unconstitutional and unlawful.
Becker, a well-known activist in the energy space from Koeberg Alert Alliance, was appointed to the NNR board in April 2021 as the representative of communities affected by nuclear activities in terms of the NNR Act – essentially the civil society representative. His appointment had followed campaigning by civil society, including OUTA, for a civil society representative on the board after government ignored this legal requirement, and OUTA supported his appointment. However, in January 2022 Becker was blocked from board meetings and, the day the board controversially approved the replacement of the Koeberg steam generators, Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe suspended him and then formally dismissed him on 25 February. Becker challenged this in court, resulting in last week’s judgment in his favour.
Although the prospect of an appeal by the Minister remains a reality, OUTA is elated by the judgment.
“What is more important is that this judgment reflects the significance of the independence of National Nuclear Regulator board members. In a different capacity, Peter Becker is the spokesperson of the Koeberg Alert Alliance, which is generally opposed to nuclear energy in South Africa. Thus, the judgment supposes that a board member’s stance towards (or against) nuclear energy is moot. The primary function of the NNR is to ensure that nuclear power plants comply with the relevant safety standards,” says Brendan Slade, OUTA Legal Project Manager.
“The role of the NNR is not to propagate for the roll out (or curtailing) of nuclear energy, but to regulate.”
The judgment paves the way to define with certainty the role of representatives on the NNR board representing people affected by nuclear activity (the civil society representative).
“OUTA believes the judgment will help pioneer much-needed independence of government boards. This will foster a culture of transparency, and with transparency comes good governance,” says Slade.
OUTA applauds Becker’s resilience and courage in combatting a government decision which is irrational and not within the public interest.
This judgment is another indication that Minister Mantashe is not fit for his job. Last week OUTA criticised the Minister’s suggestion pushing for a deal with the controversial and unaffordable Karpowerships, and called for him to be replaced with a minister who has South Africa’s interests at heart (see here and here).
A soundclip with comment by OUTA Legal Project Manager Brendan Slade is here.
More information about this case and the judgment is here.
More information about OUTA’s actions on the National Nuclear Regulator is here.