Following a lengthy period of shutdown in 2017 and 2018 which resulted from safety scares, the production of radioisotopes by NTP Radioistopes (SOC) started up again in November 2018 and ran until February this year, at which point it was stopped again for a short period to ensure that the system is working properly and that all required safety limits are adhered to.
Although the SAFARI-1 facility, based at Pelindaba north of Johannesburg, was producing saleable product prior to its most recent temporary shutdown, it was not operating at full capacity – i.e. it was operating limited production runs per month. In fact, since the plant had been idle for many months, it was operating in a sort of test mode, where the various sensors were set to higher thresholds of sensitivity so that any violation, no matter how minor, would be detected immediately. In other words, the sensors are more sensitive than they needed to be to comply with international nuclear safety standards.
Since the plant had been in a state of disuse for an extended period and other work had been done to return the plant to its original operating specifications (following some interim changes that were made during 2018), NTP was adamant that operations were conducted within strict limits, guidelines and standard operating procedures (SOPs)
During a production cycle in February 2019, the facility’s monitoring sensors – which had been set to higher levels of sensitivity as described above – detected instantaneous pressure variations in the plant. While these happen within seconds and are corrected and balanced by the plant’s ventilation system, they still require further investigation in terms of NTP’s SOPs.
For this reason, and because it is important for NTP to make sure that such issues are corrected as and when they take place, the production was halted to allow for thorough testing and evaluation to be undertaken. An internal investigation to identify the causes of these pressure variations was immediately initiated, and a remedy of the identified issues was determined. This investigation has been completed and remedial actions have been implemented, in line with the company’s prescribed processes.
This is to ensure that once the facility starts large customer production runs, the organisation can be confident that everything is working properly and in compliance with relevant legislation and the company’s own SOPs. The company is responsible for the safety of personnel, the environment, and the product, as determined by various licences and registrations as well as NTP’s own SOPs.
In accordance with NTP’s SOPs, any technical or procedural updates must go through rigorous change control protocols and safety assessments, and all production personnel must be thoroughly trained regarding any changes which may have been made.
All operating and technical specifications are closely monitored by NTP production managers and the nuclear facility manager (NFM), who reports to the NTP board and communicates to the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) through various reports. The NTP NFM works closely with Necsa Licencing since Necsa is the licence holder of the NTP radiochemical facility.
NTP adheres to world-class nuclear facility and isotope production standards, and always endeavours to manage and operate a safe plant for the safety of its personnel, the environment, and infrastructure, as well as product quality. This facility has been run safely since it was commissioned in the 1960s and has been compliant with all relevant safety regulations as they have been introduced over the years.
Once NTP has submitted its report on its internal investigation and corrective actions to the NNR, production will resume.
Contact Arno van Haght, NTP Radioisotopes, Tel 084 446-6258, firstname.lastname@example.org
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