On 25 June 2021, the Radiation and Health Physics Unit, University of the Witwatersrand and VERTIC) hosted an online African regional workshop to further discuss the establishment of a (South) African Nuclear Disarmament Verification hub. The theme of the meeting was: ‘Verifying the dismantlement of South Africa’s nuclear weapons programme: sufficient assurance?’
South Africa’s nuclear disarmament provides the only practical experience of attempting to verify the quantity of fissile material produced in an enrichment programme operating outside of international safeguards. Interrogating the technical aspects of the dismantlement may identify possible processes and lessons that may be applicable in future unilateral or multilateral disarmament initiatives. The South African case may also be illustrative of the degree of confidence that the international community may likely need to be satisfactorily persuaded that a nuclear arsenal has been completely eliminated.
Such information could also feed into the group of governmental experts (GGE) established under the UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/74/50, which is due to meet in November 2021 and in 2022, to consider nuclear disarmament verification issues.
While the majority of the participants were South African (students; academics and government entities (such as the NPC and DIRCO) and staff of the IAEA and UNODA), participants from Algeria, Nigeria, Ghana, Zimbabwe and the African Commission on Nuclear Energy [AFCONE] as well as some based in non-African States (e.g. Austria – VCNDP) also attended.
Three presentations were delivered based on papers that had been commissioned:
South Africa’s indigenous uranium enrichment process: lessons in non-proliferation and dismantlement verification by Piet Bredell, Nuclear Consultant
The experience of South Africa in having a baseline declaration verified by the IAEA: lessons learned from the two phases of the assessment of the correctness and completeness of the declared nuclear inventory and ensuring the programmes’ irreversibility by Neville Whiting, former Director, Department of Safeguards, IAEA
What constitutes sufficient assurance / verification? by Johann Kellerman, former Director: Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, Department of International Relations and Co-operation (DIRCO).
The first two papers identified possible lessons learnt from the South African experience, while the third provided food-for-thought from an African perspective and suggested ideas on how Africans can contribute to the debate on what sufficient assurance might constitute.