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South Africa Could Resume Uranium Enrichment

South Africa might resume nuclear fuel operations, including uranium enrichment, Reuters reported on Monday (see GSN, June 9, 2011).

The nation's one-time apartheid government produced highly enriched uranium to fuel several nuclear weapons believed to have been manufactured in the 1980s. However, the HEU program was curbed starting in 1985 and within a few years South Africa dismantled its nuclear arms and associated programs.

South Africa is now seeking to boost power production by 9,600 megawatts while curtailing its need to buy nuclear fuel from other nations. That could mean developing indigenous uranium enrichment and conversion plants, along with nuclear fuel production sites.

"The studies confirmed that fuel for the power reactor fleet should be manufactured in South Africa for reasons of security of supply when the nuclear component is expected to be around 13 percent of installed capacity," according to Chantal Janneker, spokeswoman for atomic power firm Nesca.

There are large amounts of uranium in the country, which could need 465 metric tons of material annually to power additional reactors by 2030.

"Earlier feasibility studies have shown that the fuel requirements of a nuclear reactor fleet of about 10,000 megawatts makes uranium enrichment a viable undertaking," Janneker told Reuters.

Consideration of uranium enrichment could catch the eye of the international community, which for years has attempted to persuade Iran to relinquish corresponding activities. The United States and other nations suspect the Middle Eastern state aims to develop a nuclear-weapon capability, a charge vehemently denied by Tehran.

"Some political pressure can be expected. It is, however, generally accepted that a local enrichment capacity for peaceful purposes can be justified if the country has a local demand or expansion plan of 10 gigawatts nuclear," according to Tony Stott, a high-level official with utility firm Eskom.

South Africa is member state to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the International Atomic Energy Agency, which would watch to ensure that any uranium enrichment operations and resulting materials were not used for military purposes (Wendell Roelf, Reuters, April 2).

 

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Country Profile

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South Africa

This article provides an overview of South Africa’s historical and current policies relating to nuclear, chemical, biological and missile proliferation.

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