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SA nuclear power worries US.

The recent nuclear tests by India and Pakistan have sent tremors throughout the US intelligence system. The focus is now on 'second tier' nuclear powers, including South Africa. How much nuclear material has South Africa got and how 'safe' is it? Milan Vesely has been investigating.

In the aftermath of India and Pakistan's nuclear tests, the US State Department, the CIA, and a whole plethora of other American intelligence agencies, are scrambling to review South Africa's multi-billion dollar armament industry, particularly its apartheid era nuclear weapons programme.

"We are continually updating intelligence assessments," was all a CIA spokesman would comment, on the usual condition of anonymity. "But certain aspects take priority, and one of them is obviously nuclear."

In 1993, then South African Prime Minister F.W. De Klerk confirmed what had long been an open intelligence secret. South Africa had 'the bomb' - seven Hiroshima-style weapons to be precise.

Manufactured by South African nuclear physicists at the Palindaba atomic complex near Pretoria, despite the handicap of anti-apartheid sanctions, the seven 'Armageddon' devices were subsequently reported to have been destroyed later that year. "There were seven weapons and they were all destroyed following the ending of the cold war," Dave Steward, Chief of Staff to Mr De Klerk confirmed in 1995 following press speculation that some of the weapons were still in existence. "Production and test facilities were also rendered harmless."

Of more urgent interest to US intelligence agencies are residual supplies of weapons-grade uranium left over from the defunct programme, as well as the nuclear battlefield shells that were supposedly also manufactured. Rumours put the total of bombs at 24 and the battlefield shells at close to 1,000, some of which were moved to the Angolan border in 1987 during the SADF's incursion in support of Jonas Savimbi's UNITA.

The National Security Council (NSC) which advises the US President has been taking a keen interest. "With South Africa's crippling recession and porous borders, we have serious concerns about such residual materials," an NSC official said when asked if US spy satellites were targeting the region again. "Such material is worth millions of dollars on the black market and poses a serious problem if sold to pariah nations such as Syria or Iraq."

In September 1979, the US Vela satellite orbiting over the Atlantic picked up a nuclear flash near Marion Island when South Africa tested its first nuclear device, developed under a joint programme with Israeli scientists. That it was a South African manufactured weapon was confirmed in April 1997 when South African Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahed was quoted in the Israeli daily Ha'aretz as saying: "There was definitely a nuclear test."

Concern over Iran

Following the Indian/Pakistani wake-up call, the Clinton administration is scrambling to formulate a new policy for dealing with second tier nuclear nations such as South Africa, Iran, North Korea and Argentina. Of particular concern are unconfirmed reports that during a 1996 meeting between Iran's Deputy Minister of Atomic Affairs, Reza Amrollahi and the chief of South Africa's Atomic Energy Corporation Dr Waldo Stumpf, Iran submitted a list of items needed for manufacturing nuclear weapons. That such a list ever existed was denied by the former Minister of Mineral Energy Affairs, Pik Botha who stated in August 1997 that only peaceful applications of nuclear technology had ever been discussed.

It is such cooperation between South Africa and Iran however that has the State Department sweating. The 1996 meeting between President Nelson Mandela and Iranian President Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, who declared: "Iran and South Africa will not allow the United States to determine our fate and our destiny," did nothing to allay suspicions. Coming soon after reports that Iran was recruiting South African nuclear scientists to work On their own nascent atomic energy programme, the speech sent shock waves through the CIA.

Another concern, raised by President Clinton during his recent tour, is South Africa's close relationship with Libya. President Mandela's resistance to US pressure over sanctions against both Iraq and Cuba is also causing disquiet in the White House. Many US foreign policy analysts attempting to formulate a reaction to India and Pakistan's flouting of the US 'New World Order' worry that when caught between the aspirations of a previously deprived population and a stringent recession, South Africa may opt to sell its nuclear technology to the highest bidder. That the US is anxious to monitor more than just nuclear technology was illustrated by the US President's vehement resistance to a $2bn deal to supply Syria with updated tank cannon stabilising equipment.

In the current recriminations over America's failure to anticipate the
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Title Annotation:South Africa
Author:Vesely, Milan
Publication:African Business
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Jul 1, 1998
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Next Article:African mining - time to grasp the nettle.

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