Necsa: US concerns about SA nuclear fuel unfounded

2015-03-17 14:21
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Cape Town - The Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa (Necsa) has denied that atomic material stored at Pelindaba Nuclear Research Centre, near Pretoria, is unsafe.

This comes after the Washington Post reported that there is US unease about security at Pelindaba following two break-ins in 2007.

According to the US Centre for Public Integrity, US officials believe there is enough nuclear explosive material locked in a vault at Pelindaba to fuel half a dozen bombs, each powerful enough to obliterate a city.

Terror fears

US officials fear that the highly enriched uranium, which was extracted from the apartheid regime's nuclear weapons in 1990 and melted down into ingots, could be stolen and used by militants to commit terror attacks.

The US had in fact helped South Africa built its first nuclear reactor in the 1950s and 1960s, and trained local scientists with US-supplied weapons-grade uranium fuel, the Washington Post reported.

US President Barack Obama wrote to President Jacob Zuma in 2011 to ask him to transform the nuclear weapons fuel to benign reactor fuel, with US help, in order to prevent a "global catastrophe" and "better protect people from around the world".

However, Zuma and other South African officials appear to have spurned these moves, saying South Africa is capable of keeping its nuclear materials safe.

'No need to worry'

Necsa's Qolisa Mabongo told Eyewitness News on Tuesday that the US claims are simply bizarre.

There is no need to worry, and the material is perfectly safe, he said. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) watches the country's nuclear material.

Mabongo added that South Africa was unique in that it dismantled its nuclear weapons and downgraded its uranium enrichment progress, but there has been little recognition of this.

The recently-released spy cables leaked to Al Jazeera revealed that South African spies suspected China was behind a series of break-ins at Pelindaba in 2007, in order to steal technology to gain an advantage in a new kind of nuclear power generation.

At the time, the robbery was dismissed as "a burglary attempt". Earlier this month, China vehemently denied it was behind the break-in, saying it was a complete fabrication and ridiculous.

Conspiracy theories

Department of international relations and co-operation spokesperson Clayson Monyela told the Washington Post that the 2007 break-in was a regular burglary, and reiterated that the atomic material is safe.

According to Monyela, government officials are aware of a concerted campaign to undermine the country, and that such rumours and conspiracy theories are rejected with the contempt they deserve.

The IAEA had raised no concerns, Monyela added.

Read more on:    necsa  |  pretoria  |  nuclear

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