The prolonged shutdown of a critical state-owned nuclear medicine producer because of operational issues has put South Africa at risk of losing its global competitive advantage in the sector. Business Day reports that this is according to Mineral Resources and Energy minister Gwede Mantashe who said that although South Africa was a major producer of medical radioisotopes, which are used to treat cancer, its dominant position had since been put in jeopardy.
With energy only recently added to Mantashe’s portfolio, he said one of his first interventions was to tackle the prolonged shutdown of the NTP Radioisotopes, a subsidiary of the Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa), due to operational challenges.
NTP’s unreliable production was creating space for new entrants to come into the market as well as for substitutes. Not only does it make customers nervous, the suppliers of feedstock would also seek out alternative avenues for their product, Mantashe warned.
“You are giving away competitive advantage we’ve had and developed for 20 years,” he is quoted in the report as saying. “I accused them of being reckless in protecting that space. My first suspicion, as a politician, is that you want to kill that capacity because you want to sell it for a song.”
The report says Mantashe’s comments echo unsubstantiated rumours that former energy minister Jeff Radebe wanted to sell NTP Radioisotopes to US-based Lantheus Medical Imaging for personal gain – something Radebe vehemently denied. The allegation arose in December when Radebe disbanded the Necsa board and fired its chair, Kelvin Kemm. He also placed Necsa CEO Phumzile Tshelane on suspension, pending the outcome of an investigation. Tshelane was dismissed in May.
The report says Radebe cited the closure at NTP Radioisotopes, which was out of production for nine months in 2018, as one of the key reasons for his actions. Rob Adam was installed as chair at the time, but resigned earlier in July owing to the overly demanding nature of the job.
Disruptions in production of radioisotopes continued into 2019, but production is once again up and running as of July, Mantashe said.Business Day report