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South Africa – Verification Lessons Learned from the Dismantled Nuclear Weapons Programme. Olli Heinonen Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs Harvard Kennedy School 18 October, 2013. N uclear weapons programs took place parallel to civilian programs .

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south africa verification lessons learned from the dismantled nuclear weapons programme

South Africa – Verification Lessons Learned from the Dismantled Nuclear Weapons Programme

Olli Heinonen

Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

Harvard Kennedy School

18 October, 2013

path to nuclear weapon capability

Nuclear weapons programs took place parallel to civilian programs.

Nuclear power alone is not a stepping stone to weapon capability, but mastering of sensitive technologies is:

- Reprocessing

- Uranium enrichment

(South Africa considered both, but opted for the uranium enrichment)

Nuclear know-how ; technologies cannot be un-invented and special skills fade away slowly.

Path to Nuclear Weapon Capability
south africa s nuclear milestones 1
South Africa’s Nuclear Milestones - 1
  • 1969 – A committee to study peaceful nuclear explosions for mining.
  • 1971 – R&D for nuclear explosives starts.
  • 1978 – Pilot uranium enrichment plant starts the operation.
  • 1978 – Armscor takes the responsibility the development for a deliverable nuclear weapon.
  • 1989 - Pilot uranium enrichment plant ends the operation.
  • 1990 – President de Klerk instructed to terminate the production of weapons and dismantle them and the infrastructure.
south africa s nuclear milestones 2
South Africa’s Nuclear Milestones - 2
  • 10 July 1991 – South Africa accedes to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).
  • 16 September 1991 – A comprehensive safeguards agreement with the IAEA enters into force.
  • 25 March 1992 – South Africa submits the complete inventory of its nuclear material holdings to the IAEA.
  • 24 March 1993 – President de Klerk announces that South Africa has had nuclear weapon program, which had beendismantled before joining the NPT.
nuclear weapons program
Nuclear Weapons Program
  • The development and production of a number of deliverable gun-type devices.
  • Lithium-6 separation for the production of tritium for possible future use in boosted devices.
  • Studies of implosion and thermonuclear technology.
  • Research and development for the production and recovery of plutonium and tritium.
iaea safeguards in south africa
IAEA Safeguards in South Africa

Under INFCIRC/66 safeguards before September 1991:

- SAFARI-1 research reactor, Pelindaba.

- Hot cell complex, Pelindaba.

- Koebergnuclear power reactor units 1 and 2.

Note: These installations had not contributed to the weapons program.

iaea safeguards in south africa1
IAEA Safeguards in South Africa

Additional installations from September 1991 under a INFCIRC/153-type agreement

- Uranium conversion plant (UF6).

- Pilot enrichment plant (HEU).

- HEU metal/alloy production plant.

- HEU fuel fabrication.

- Semi-commercial enrichment plant (LEU).

- MLIS laser enrichment R&D facility.

- LEU fuel fabrication plant.

- Natural uranium/depleted uranium metal plants.

- Decontamination plants and waste storages.

Note: Also R&D on centrifuge enrichment, but without using nuclear material.


Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement.

Nuclear Weapons Free Zone in Africa.

The Treaty requires the dismantlement of nuclear weapons programs in a verifiable manner.

Resolution of the IAEA General Conference

npt safeguards
NPT Safeguards

NPT model safeguards agreement (INFCIRC/153 Corrected):

-Purpose: verifying that nuclear material is not diverted.

-Verify that State declarations about their nuclear material holdings are correct and complete.

–Technical objective: timely detection and deterrence of diversion of significant quantities of nuclear material.

–Focus on declared facilities and material.

–Fundamental safeguards measure is nuclear material accountancy, with containment and surveillance as complementary measures.

verification 1
Verification - 1

Taking into account the past weapons program, the objectives of the IAEA inspections were to:

- Gain assurance that all nuclear material used in the program has been placed under IAEA safeguards and is in peaceful use.

- Assess that all non-nuclear weapons specific components of the devices had been destroyed, all laboratory and engineering facilities had been fully decommissioned and abandoned or converted to non-nuclear or peaceful nuclear usage, all weapons-specific equipment had been destroyed and that all other equipment had been converted to non-nuclear usage or peaceful nuclear usage.

verification 2
Verification - 2

Assessment of the completeness of the declared nuclear inventory:

-The inventory was first evaluated with respect to production, imports, and usage of uranium, and then the isotopic balance of the inventory was calculated and compared with the use ofnatural uranium.

- Entire operating history of the enrichment plants was assessed by analyzing of data from several thousand operating records including detailed the plant status, on a daily basis.

- All nuclear wastes were characterized, repacked and verified.

verification 3
Verification - 3
  • The objectives of the IAEA inspections were to:
  • - Assess the completeness and correctness of the information provided with respect to the timing and scope of the program, and the development, manufacture, and subsequent dismantling of the nuclear weapons.
  • - Maintain assurances that the nuclear weapons capability would not be restored.
  • These objectives were based on the IAEA's rights and obligations under the safeguards agreement and on the stated policy of the South African Government for full transparency with respect to the country's former nuclear weapons program
implementation of safeguards
]Implementation of Safeguards
  • Full and complete initial declaration:
  • - Scientific seminars and visits conducted to explain the scope and content of the civilian and military elements of the nuclear program.
  • - All nuclear material and facilities including test and dismantled facilities were declared and verified.
  • - Verification proceeded in steps as nuclear material and information became available.
dilemmas of verification 1
Dilemmas of Verification - 1

The overlap between the equipment, knowledge and materials required to develop nuclear weapons and to conduct civilian nuclear research or develop nuclear defense limits the effectiveness of verification measures and complicates information acquisition and analysis .

dilemmas of verification 2
Dilemmas of Verification - 2
  • Dismantlement includes access to proliferation sensitive information.
  • It takes time.
  • It requires access to sites and information of importance to national security.
dealing with discrepancies
Dealing with Discrepancies
  • First analysis revealeddiscrepancies with respect to HEU produced by the pilot enrichment plant ,and with respect to LEU produced by the semi-commercial enrichment plant indicating that substantial amount of uranium-235 was unaccounted for.
  • Re-examination of records, and further sampling lead to adjustments of nuclear material in wastes, tails , and hold-ups; problems were resolved.
keys to success
Keys to Success
  • Openness and Cooperation:
  • - Unfettered access to relevant people and sites
  • - Visits: Any time, any place with a reason
  • Cooperation.
  • Trust and verify.
  • Each country is an unique case; no one size fits all.
  • Special verification teams.
reading material
Reading Material
  • Waldo Stumpf, Birth and Death of the South African Nuclear Weapons Program, 50 Years after Hiroshima, Castiglioncello, Italy, 28 September 1995.
  • ZondiMasiza, A Chronology of South Africa’s Nuclear Program, The Nonproliferation Review Fall 1993, p. 35-55.
  • Adolf von Baeckmann, Gary Dillon, and Demetrius Perricos, Nuclear Verification in South Africa, IAEA Bulletin, 1/1995, p.42-48.
  • David Albright, South Africa’s Secret Nuclear Weapons, A Report of the Institute for Science and International Security, 1 May 1994.