SA 'nuke plant' discovered

2004-11-28 11:27

Washington - Investigators looking into illicit transfers of nuclear weapons technology have recently uncovered a South African-based scheme to deliver a complete uranium enrichment plant to Libya, The Los Angeles Times reported on Sunday.

Citing documents and interviews, the newspaper said the discovery provided fresh evidence of the reach and sophistication of Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan's global black market in nuclear know-how and equipment.

The dimensions of the plot began to emerge in September, when police raided a factory outside Johannesburg, according to the report.

They found the elements of a two-storey steel processing system for the enrichment plant, packed in 11 freight containers for shipment to Libya.

South African officials have disclosed only that they discovered nuclear components, the paper said.

But The Times has learned that the massive system was designed to operate an array of 1 000 centrifuges for enriching uranium.

Once assembled in Libya, the plant could have produced enough weapons-grade uranium to manufacture several nuclear bombs a year, according to the report.

Delivery of the plant would have greatly accelerated Libya's efforts to develop nuclear weapons, The Times said.

The discovery of a South African connection to A Q Khan network has led to the arrests of four business and engineering figures in South Africa, including some who had been involved in the former apartheid regime's nuclear program, the paper said.

Khan, the disgraced architect of Pakistan's nuclear programme, took full responsibility in February for nuclear leaks to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

Libya has since renounced its nuclear programme and allowed the United States to ship its key technological components out of the country.

South Africa, which was close to testing a nuclear device in the late 1970s, has abandoned its nuclear programme following the collapse of the apartheid regime.