Cabinet expressed condolences to quake victims

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Pretoria - Cabinet has extended sympathy to the victims of the earthquake and tsunami which hit Japan last week.

"On behalf of the people of South Africa, Cabinet would like to extend the nation's collective sympathy, and our prayers and thoughts are with the people of Japan, especially those who have been affected by this tragedy," said Minister in the Presidency, Collins Chabane after Cabinet's ordinary fortnightly meeting.

He said Cabinet had further commended those courageous South Africans who had gone to help the Japanese. 

A team of 50 South African rescuers left for Japan at 5.30pm on Wednesday to assist in the search and rescue operations following the disaster, Specialised Rescue South Africa on Wednesday. The team, including rescue dogs and doctors, was meant to have left on Monday but had to delay the trip as the aircraft was not cleared in time. 

Rescue SA was part of the international effort that last year helped to pull survivors and countless dead following the earthquake that tore through Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince. 

This comes as relief efforts are continuing five days after the tsunami triggered by the 9.0 magnitude earthquake. 

Although the world's third-largest economy opened for business, a badly wounded nation that has seen entire villages and towns wiped off the map by a wall of water, leaving in its wake an international humanitarian effort of epic proportion. 

The latest death toll stands at about 2 400, but some estimates suggest at least 10 000 may have died.

Japanese officials have confirmed that three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Power Plant were at risk of overheating, raising fears of an uncontrolled radiation leak.

Meanwhile, Energy Minister Dipuo Peters has expressed her satisfaction with the level of readiness to handle emergencies at Koeberg, saying South Africa's nuclear safety has always been uppermost in policy direction.

This as Koeberg Unit 2 was shut on Monday by power utility Eskom for its refuelling and maintenance. The unit will be re-opened in the second week of May 2011.

"The fact that Unit 2 at Koeberg nuclear power plant is in a routine refueling and maintenance shutdown is further evidence of our commitment to safe operations at our nuclear power station," said Peters after visiting the station earlier this week.

According to the minister the National Nuclear Regulator has said that the plant's design structure provides a reasonable assurance of its ability to withstand events such as earthquakes and tidal waves of a magnitude which are considered likely in accident. 

"A review of nuclear safety features and back-up power system is being undertaken in different parts of the world," she said, adding that this is being done to check the ability of reactors to withstand the impact of big natural disasters. 

"This does not necessarily translate to a rethink of the decision to build nuclear power stations," she added.

On her visit to the plant, Peters saw the safety measures in place at the plant including the emergency diesel power generators. Additionally the Koeberg Nuclear Disaster management plan has been developed and is tested every other year to ensure readiness in the unlikely event of an accident. The last exercise was conducted on 30 November last year.

The minister expressed sympathy to Japan. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the government and people of Japan at this time. More so as they deal with the developing situation at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. As anyone in nuclear energy sector may know, an accident anywhere in the world affects the entire sector worldwide," she said.