Michael Schmidt’s article only told the first part of the story of SA’s nuclear bomb programme (How SA’s nuke cloud became a global silver lining, August 22). The second part started in 1994 after massive budget cuts for Pelindaba resulted in the retrenchment of technical people — some say 10,000 man years of experience at MBA-plus level were lost.
The retrenchment survivors were instructed to commercialise the technology to pay their way. This included the bomb-grade uranium that had been recovered from the bombs and was under regular International Atomic Energy Agency inspection. The challenges were enormous, but the staff was highly motivated and the mantra of the day was "we will beat these swords into ploughshares".
Within five years, Pelindaba was one of the top three producers in the world of isotopes for medical imaging and the biggest producer of fluorine-based chemicals in the southern hemisphere. Apart from a very healthy income stream, the isotope production business (NTP Radioisotopes SOC) has used the bomb-grade uranium as a raw material in the production of its isotopes, resulting in the stockpile of this highly strategic material being almost used up.
So South Africans can be very proud of the fact that about 50,000 medical patients a day spread over all five continents have nuclear imaging procedures using isotopes made at Pelindaba — and that the bomb-grade uranium is as good as gone.
Lawrence Hyslop (Retired GM, Pelindaba) Elgin