Cancer patients left in the cold as key facility shuts down

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PRETORIA -  Yet another parastatal appears to be in trouble.

The radiochemical facility of the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) could lose its license, due to a safety breach that could have triggered a chemical explosion.

The facility produces radioactive atoms for both industrial and medical purposes.

Many cancer and other patients in more than 60 countries depend on its production.

Necsa said it shut down the facility after it discovered that two gauges that show the level of hydrogen being produced was incorrect.

The state entity said production should have stopped immediately after the discovery of calibration problems. But this didn’t happen.

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“I think it is management action or inaction in terms of looking at the records of work, in terms of training the personnel correctly. As a result, we’ve asked the management to be on special leave until such time that we’ve completed our investigations and instituted corrective actions within the plant,” said Necsa Group CEO Phumzile Tshelane.
 
Those placed on special leave include the heads of the facility, operations and compliance departments.

An investigation is being carried out by a team of experts in both nuclear production and auditing.

The shutdown will have a direct impact on nuclear medicine supplies across the world.
 
“We’re losing at least R3.5-million per day. We are also not supplying cancer patients with the medication that they require. We supply over 60 countries in the world. These people are not receiving the medication they were expecting to receive this week,” said Tshelane.
 
Initial investigations by the National Nuclear Regulator has found that the calibration was out of sync for about seven months.