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Peter Becker, sacked from the National Nuclear Regulato...

Business Maverick

KOEBERG ROW

Peter Becker, sacked from the National Nuclear Regulator Board, won’t go down without a fight

From left: National Nuclear Regulator chairperson Dr Thapelo Motshudi. (Photo: Supplied) | NNR board community representative Peter Becker. (Photo: Tamsin Metelerkamp) | Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

Minerals and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe drew a line in the sand recently when he said he would not countenance dissent from board members at the National Nuclear Regulator. ‘If you resist nuclear and you [are] a board member, I fire you, simple. You can’t be [on] a board of something you’re not advocating for.’ His comments, reported by News24, are relevant for many reasons, chief among which is a legal challenge to his dismissal of community representative board member Peter Becker.

Recently subpoenaed to provide a “record of proceedings” — the documents, evidence, arguments and other information relating to the dismissal of community representative Peter Becker from the board of the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) in February this year — the Minister of Minerals and Energy, Gwede Mantashe, has thrown the book right back. 

Fired National Nuclear Regulator board member takes Minister Gwede Mantashe to court

Up to 30 documents have been submitted to the attorneys concerned, including emails and minutes of NNR board meetings, which until now have not been disclosed — not even to Outa, which attempted to access them via a Promotion of Access to Information Act submission.

Becker, a known anti-nuclear activist and member of the Koeberg Alert Alliance, was appointed to the board of the National Nuclear Regulator last June as its community representative and was thereby duty-bound to serve the interests of communities that may be affected by nuclear activities. 

By February 2022, he had been fired for “misconduct”.

The board, it appears, could not tolerate Becker’s persistent questioning, requests for information and concerns about the licensing of Koeberg’s Long-Term Operation, coupled with his outspoken anti-nuclear stance. 

Within weeks of Becker having joined the board, NNR chairperson Dr Thapelo Motshudi commissioned a legal opinion “to establish whether Mr Becker is conflicted or not, and if he is conflicted, propose measures in which such conflict may be managed”.

Armed with the legal opinion, Motshudi wrote to Minister Gwede Mantashe in October explaining his concerns and requesting that he “act”. 

Mr Becker has inundated the NNR management with requests for NNR documents and information outside of the normal board process,” he wrote. “Mr Becker also wrote emails directly to me in my capacity as chairperson of the board requesting information.

“In addition, Mr Becker’s conduct has led to several complaints from the NNR management, some members of the board and also Eskom, the holder of a nuclear authorisation licence for the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station.” 

Nathi Mthethwa’s (final?) monumental red flag

The coup de grâce, however, was the legal opinion — known as the MacRobert opinion. This found that “Becker’s conduct is not protecting or promoting the business interests of the NNR and preserving the NNR’s reputation or goodwill”.

Further, the opinion stated, his role as the spokesperson of the Koeberg Alert Alliance and the statements he made therein conflicted with his role as a board member of the NNR. 

“In light of this conclusion, the NNR was advised to inform the Minister of the conduct of Mr Becker and request the Minister to act on it since the Minister is the competent authority that is responsible for appointment and removal of NNR board members.” 

What transpired thereafter is detailed in the “decision memorandum” written by the director-general of the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, advocate Thabo Mokoena, also submitted by Mantashe’s office.

It noted that Becker was suspended from the board in January — just days before the regulator approved the extension-of-life project for Koeberg — and, following a legal challenge by Becker, was given the opportunity to make a written submission prior to the minister making a final decision in February. 

Becker made his case, arguing that his anti-nuclear position was known ahead of his appointment; that his membership of the KAA was not a conflict; and that as a board member his stance was one of oversight — to gather sufficient documentary evidence to ensure that nuclear power, and Koeberg to be specific, adhered to robust safety standards.

That, he argues, is the job of the NNR. It is not, he says, to advocate for nuclear power. That is the job of the SA Nuclear Energy Corporation. 

Counsel acting for Mantashe was not swayed by these arguments and maintained that the conflict of interest was “material and fundamental”, and recommended Becker be discharged.

Following another fortnight of legal back and forth, Becker was dismissed in February.

Becker’s lawyers are now working on a supplementary founding affidavit, based on the information received. They are also talking to the advocates on both sides to agree on a court date, which will then be submitted to the Western Cape High Court. DM/BM

 

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All Comments 6

  • Has Mr Beckers job title ever had a defined job description. If it has, has he overstepped his position, or is his dismissal pursuant to his ” burr under the saddle” performance on the Board?
    To perform his responsibilities, the function of a director is always to act un the best interests of both the business itself AND the customer base it serves?

  • The argument that the NNR’s job is to REGULATE the nuclear industry, not to ADVOCATE for nuclear energy is very powerful. In fact, the NNR would be conflicted if it pushed for nuclear power and risk being accused of bias in favour of the nuclear industry.

  • Nuclear can be dangerous, therefore it needs strong oversight.
    If there was an explosion at Kusile for example, it would constrain the network even further, BUT if the same happened at Koeberg, there would be SO MANY MORE repercussions, it’s scary to consider.
    I am afraid that with their track record of lack-lustre maintenance of the other power stations and cutting of corners in the past, we could be heading for a disaster at Koeberg if there is not enough oversight.

    • I do agree with Karin, Nuclear is dangerous IF NOT PROPERLY CONTROLED. The problem in this country will be the control of our nuclear power stations, will be to train conscientious technicians. Like an airline pilot, constant attention is required and adequate reaction to a potential problem the norm. There is also the maintenance of the equipments and again an aeroplane properly maintain can fly for 50 years. Yes there is the question about the disposal of used and obsolete nuclear fuel. Several solutions exist and our unused mines can be part of it to stock them. With proper lead/concrete casing, used nuclear fuel can be safely stored for centuries. This is my opinion.

  • “You can’t be [on] a board of something you’re not advocating for” but can you accept incompetency, bribery and corruption?
    You can be on the board of PRASA and support trains and buy trains that that do not run on our network?
    Or be on the board of Eskom and siphon funds for Chancellor House?
    It seems, as though the ANC, through dictators like Mantashe, is rotten to the core
    Why have a board at all, if Mantashe has made the decisions about the questions you may or may not ask?
    Is Mantashe not past his sell by date. The ANC has realised that they are close to expiry.
    The sooner Action SA takes over from the irrelevant ANC, childish EFF and seemingly racist DA, the better.

  • Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted