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Director General's Statement on the Occasion of the Presentation by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of South Africa

Vienna, Austria

Mr. Foreign Minister, Distinguished Guests,

On behalf of the Agency I have great pleasure in accepting this highly symbolic gift. The moment is right. After decades of the nuclear arms race and attempts to contain the proliferation of nuclear weapons - horizontal and vertical - we have now reached a moment when, indeed, swords - not all but many - are being turned into ploughshares.

Russia and the United States have agreed to cut the number of warheads from some 65 000 together to some 3000 each. Although this number still represents a formidable destructive potential, it points to a decisive turn.

And the number of countries committed to non-proliferation and accepting comprehensive verification of the commitment, continues to grow. I point in particular to South Africa and to recent positive developments in South America as well as the forward movement in the countries of the former Soviet Union.

At our end we have been reviewing our safeguards system to ensure its strength and cost-effectiveness.

Those reviews have arisen from a growing international awareness of both the importance of nuclear non-proliferation and specific issues which have posed new challenges to the verification system.

One such challenge was the welcome decision of South Africa to accede to the NPT.

When a State joining the safeguards system has many nuclear installations and much nuclear material, it is always a challenge to verify that everything that should be declared to the IAEA has been declared. Such was the case in South Africa where safeguards implementation under South Africa's NPT-related Safeguards Agreement with the Agency began in November 1991.

The extensive nature of South Africa's nuclear fuel cycle required not only considerable inspection resources but also extensive co-operation on the part of the State authorities e.g. in providing access to defunct facilities and to historical accounting and operating records.

However, the Agency's activities in South Africa show how such challenges can be tackled successfully through sustained efforts by the IAEA and through a high degree of co-operation and transparency on the part of the inspected country. Since September 1991, many discrepancies which had been identified have now been resolved. In September 1993, the IAEA found it reasonable to conclude that the amounts of highly enriched uranium (HEU) which could have been produced by South Africa's pilot enrichment plant are consistent with the amounts declared in South Africa's Initial Report. Work is continuing, aimed at reaching a similarly satisfactory conclusion in relation to the production of low enriched uranium.

A new dimension was added in March 1993, when President de Klerk declared that South Africa had previously developed a limited nuclear capability which had been dismantled and destroyed before South Africa acceded to the NPT. The Agency was invited to examine that South Africa's nuclear weapons programme had been terminated and that all the nuclear material used in it had been placed under safeguards. For this purpose the IAEA sent experts to visit the facilities involved in the abandoned programme and to review historical data. It found no indication casting doubt on South Africa's statement that all the highly enriched uranium for weapons had been reported in its initial declaration. Also it has found no indication to suggest "that there remain any sensitive components of the nuclear weapons programme which have not been either rendered useless or converted to commercial non-nuclear applications or peaceful nuclear usage."

I quote this language because it was carefully drafted wording used for our report to the General Conference indicating our generally satisfactory findings but also indicating the difficulty, indeed impossibility, of giving categorical statements in this complex area of verification.

This was the first occasion on which a State which had developed weapons had chosen to terminate its weapons programme. The invitation to the IAEA to verify that termination and the offer of full access to any location or facility associated with the former programme was vital to the fulfilment of the Agency's obligations and to the outcome I have described. For the future, the Agency would like to make use of the standing invitation extended earlier by the South African Government to grant the Agency full access to any location or facility associated with the former nuclear weapon programme and to consider requests for access to other facilities which the Agency deems pertinent to the implementation of comprehensive safeguards in South Africa.

The Government of South Africa has helped demonstrate that the purpose of safeguards inspection is to create confidence that nuclear material and installations are being used only for peaceful purposes - and to uncover the opposite should it occur. Safeguards are a form of institutionalized nuclear transparency. Of course, nothing prevents a State from going even further in transparency than the current comprehensive safeguards system requires. Indeed, there may be particular advantage in doing so where the state concerned perceives it of benefit to demonstrate even greater transparency designed to generate even further confidence on the part of others.

Today's presentation of a ploughshare crafted from non-nuclear material cut from one of its former nuclear devices is symbolic, above all of the way in which weapons of war can be transformed into the tools of peace. South Africa is entering a new era which deserves, and I am sure will receive, all possible support from the international community. At the same time South Africa will have the capacity substantially to contribute to further uses of nuclear energy on the African continent. With South Africa having joined the Non-Proliferation Treaty and been the first State to roll back from a nuclear-weapon capability, the road should soon be open for an early conclusion of an Africa Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty.

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Last update: 26 Nov 2019

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