* Necsa a producer of medical radioisotopes
* Board members backed nuclear power expansion
* Ramaphosa opposed to nuclear expansion
* Board plans legal challenge over its removal (Adds Rosatom detail, lawyer, context)
By Alexander Winning
PRETORIA, Dec 7 (Reuters) - South African Energy Minister Jeff Radebe said on Friday that the government had replaced the entire board of directors of state-run nuclear firm Necsa and suspended its chief executive over problems with how it was governed.
The previous Necsa board included prominent backers of plans to expand South Africa’s nuclear power capacity which were shelved by President Cyril Ramaphosa after he succeeded scandal-plagued Jacob Zuma as head of state in February.
Necsa is one of the world’s largest producers of medical radioisotopes and promotes research and development in nuclear energy.
“The Necsa board failed to execute its statutory mandate in a satisfactory and prudent manner,” Radebe told a news conference.
He said several board members had shown “ineptitude and deliberate acts of defiance” which had resulted in setbacks including a halt in production of radioisotopes at Necsa subsidiary NTP.
Necsa also signed an agreement with Russian state nuclear firm Rosatom earlier this year to explore joint production of nuclear medicines, despite an “express instruction” from the South African government to not go ahead with the signing, Radebe said.
The new board will be headed by Rob Adam, a former Necsa executive who has also served as director of the Square Kilometre Array telescope project.
The decision to appoint Adam and other new Necsa board members could still be overturned, however, as a lawyer for the previous board told Reuters that he would lodge an urgent interdict on Friday to overturn the appointments.
“From a legal standpoint we think the minister’s decision to replace the Necsa board is completely without merit,” lawyer Douglas Molepo said.
“He clearly did not properly apply his mind to the board’s representations as to why it should not be removed.”
Asked about the previous Necsa board’s plan to challenge their removal, Radebe said: “I hear that they want to oppose. Opposing what? They have been removed as a board, and cabinet has approved the new board. So they are ex-board members.”
South Africa currently has two nuclear reactors with an installed capacity of around 1,800 megawatts at a power plant near Cape Town.
Under Zuma, there were plans to build up to 9,600 additional megawatts of new nuclear capacity, but Ramaphosa has said the country cannot currently afford to expand. (Editing by James Macharia and Jason Neely)