Assessing the past and the present role of the National Nuclear Regulator as a public protector against potential health injuries: the West and Far West Rand as case study.

12 June 2012

Recent national and international news media articles and television programmes, official public domain Government and peer reviewed academic reports drew the international and national public’s attention to the health risks and hazards and impacts pertaining to uraniferous waste from the gold mining industry within the Witwatersrand goldfields and the role of the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) in this regard. The Dutch research organizations’ Wise and Somo’s recent report, entitled “Uranium from Africa – mitigation of uranium impacts on society and environment by industry and governments” found that that the lack of knowledge within institutions and lack of proper environmental management systems, both in industry and in the government, “render South Africa a poor example of environmental and human health protection….The government is failing.” It is especially the poor, the disempowered and the vulnerable members of mining communities that bear the highest risks and impacts. These communities have low adaptive capacity because of chronic and acute malnutrition and high HIV/Aids percentages. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently estimated that 34% of all childhood illness in the world (compared to 24% of all age illness) and 36% of deaths in children under age 14 are due to modifiable environmental factors. As with many illnesses, genes may create a loaded gun, but environment pulls the trigger. However, determining how impacts from gold mining waste within the West and Far West Rand as part of the Witwatersrand goldfields influence or determine human health is a challenge. This is due to the social, cultural and economic conditions (thus their broader well-being status) which influence the vulnerability of communities, and subsequently their resilience. The focus of the discussion will relate to this area and the NNR’s role – past and present – as public health protector in this area per se.