Attack at Pelindaba nuclear facility
9 November 2007, 07:17
A brazen attack by four gunmen on the Pelindaba nuclear facility has left a senior emergency officer seriously injured.
Anton Gerber, Necsa emergency services operational officer spoke to the Pretoria News from his hospital bed hours after the attack.
He was shot in the chest when the gunmen stormed the facility's emergency response control room in the early hours of Thursday morning.
The shooting comes four months after Necsa's newly appointed services general manager Eric Lerata, 43, was gunned down in front of his Montana home after returning from a business trip in France.
Pelindaba is regarded as one of the country's most secure national key points.
It is surrounded by electric fencing, has 24-hour CCTV surveillance, security guards and security controls and checkpoints.
The attack comes as the country prepares to preside over an International Atomic Energy Agency convention on nuclear safety.
The convention is aimed at achieving a high level of global nuclear safety via safety related technical co-operation; establishing and maintaining effective defences in nuclear installations against potential radiological hazards and preventing accidents with radiological consequences.
A visibly shaken Gerber, who was rushed to Eugene Marais hospital, on Thursday said that he was sitting in the control room with his fiancée Ria Meiring when he heard a loud bang.
Meiring, who was working nightshift, is the supervisor of the control room.
Gerber said he kept Meiring company. "I do not like it when she is at work at night and I go with her to keep her company and ensure that she is safe," he said.
Describing the attack Gerber said they were inside the electronically sealed control room when they heard a loud bang.
They then spotted the gunmen coming into the facility's eastern block.
It is believed that the attackers gained access to the building by using a ladder from Pelindaba's fire brigade and scaling a wall.
The men are thought to have forced open a window by pulling out several louvers.
Pushing Meiring underneath a desk, Gerber attacked two of the gunmen as they forced their way into the control room and ran straight for the control panel.
"I did not know what they were going to do. I just kept on hitting them even when one of them attacked me with a screwdriver.
"I knew that if I stopped they would attack Ria or do something to the panel.
"I could not let anything like that happen," he said.
Unbeknownst to Gerber one of the robbers had shot him in the chest as he fought them off.
The bullet narrowly missed his heart breaking a rib before puncturing his lung. Doctors said the bullet missed his spine by 2cm.
Gerber, who at one stage thought he was going to die, said he had been very scared.
"The facility is meant to be safe. There are security guards, electric fences and security control points. These things are not meant to happen," he said.
Necsa spokesperson Chantal Janneker confirmed the attack.
She declined to say how the gunmen had gained access to the facility or whether they had stolen anything.
Janneker said Necsa was conducting an internal investigation into the attack.
Once the police investigation was complete Necsa would divulge what happened, she said.
Later in the afternoon, Pretoria News was phoned by a man identifying himself as a Necsa legal adviser, saying the newspaper will be breaching the National Keypoints Act by publishing the story.
He said that Necsa may seek a court order preventing dissemination of the story.
He claimed that the interview with Gerber was "unethical" as "he was under sedation and thus incoherent" when it was conducted.
Pretoria News sought and was granted permission to interview Gerber, by hospital management, and Gerber himself. While he was obviously in pain, he appeared coherent and made sense throughout the interview.
His recall of the events was sequential and to the point. He also agreed to have his picture taken in his hospital bed.
North West police spokesperson Superintendent Louis Jacobs said that no arrests had been made.
"A case of armed robbery and attempted murder are being investigated," he said.