Increasingly, African states are arguing for an African framework for nuclear security to be developed, and that regional bodies such as the African Union (AU) and African Commission on Nuclear Energy (AFCON) should drive this process. The need for a thorough, continent-wide nuclear security threat assessment is growing.
African states have become increasingly aware of the dangers that nuclear proliferation can pose. However, domestic matters still take priority. Although there is international agreement that issues of nuclear security remain sovereign in nature and thus the responsibility of individual states, there is a recognition among countries, that ‘a nuclear security event or a weakness in nuclear security measures in one State has the potential to involve or affect other States’.
There is also ‘a growing recognition among States that nuclear security is a global issue that needs to be addressed on a global basis’. Given Africa’s growing prominence in the nuclear arena, African states should take this into consideration.
More than 30 African states are estimated to be in the process of uranium exploration, and nearly half the continent’s countries are seeking to use nuclear power to address shortages of electricity. In 2012, four African states, namely Niger (4th), Namibia (5th), Malawi (10th) and South Africa (12th), were listed in the top 20 global uranium exporters. Furthermore, Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa all currently operate nuclear facilities, with both Ghana’s and Nigeria’s facilities making use of HEU, pending planned conversion to LEU.
Namibia and South Africa have also expressed interest in developing the entire nuclear fuel cycle from uranium extraction to enrichment – which would require upgrades to their safety and security measures. This view is reinforced by the IAEA, which states that ‘appropriate and effective national systems for nuclear security are vital in facilitating the peaceful use of nuclear energy and enhancing efforts to combat nuclear terrorism’.
The treaty of Pelindaba, Africa’s nuclear programme free zone treaty remains the continent benchmark framework for nuclear security and safety African states continue to advance safety and security measures through continental bodies such as the African Commission on Nuclear Energy (AFCONE), the Forum of Nuclear Regulatory Bodies in Africa (FNRBA) and the African Regional Cooperative Agreement for Research, Development and Training related to Nuclear Science and Technology (AFRA).
Notwithstanding these positive developments, more can certainly be accomplished to significantly advance nuclear safety and security on the African continent. For example, although 36 African states are party to the CPPNM, only 12 are party to its 2005 Amendment. These numbers are further reduced if one looks at agreements such as the Convention on Nuclear Safety, which only has six African signatories. As such, African states should place greater emphasis on the adoption, ratification and implementation of international and regional conventions. Domestic tensions, especially those of a political and military nature, place significant pressure on African states. Although they often force governments to divert resources and attention from issues such as nuclear safety and security, these issues cannot be overemphasized.
Increasingly, African states are arguing for an African framework for nuclear security to be developed, and those regional bodies such as the African Union (AU) and AFCONE should drive this process. The need for a thorough, continent-wide nuclear security threat assessment is growing. It is envisioned that AFCONE, with the assistance of the AU, could be perfectly situated to perform such a task. In addition, the development of education and training programmes would assist in ensuring that nuclear operators and regulators have the knowledge and skills to implement appropriate measures according to international standards.
As of 31 December 2012, the IAEA’s Incident and Trafficking Database reported over 160 incidents involving nuclear materials, ranging from unauthorized possession to theft and/or loss. This reinforces the complicated nature of securing and/or reacquiring nuclear materials, as well as problems associated with security at nuclear facilities and the consolidation and conversion of nuclear stockpiles.
Now is a critical time for the international community to assess progress made and continue the debate on what a truly equitable nuclear security framework should look like. Issues relating to nuclear safety and security are indeed sovereign in nature; however, their consequences are global and the African community needs to be cognisant of this. Failure to address such issues could be disastrous.
Most important for African states is the development of an appropriate framework for the continent – one that would ensure the highest levels of nuclear safety and security without inhibiting states’ rights to the peaceful use of nuclear technology. If Africa does not make its voice heard at international forums such as the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit, it risks being obligated to implement a framework that does not address the real security threats faced by the continent. Africa could then find itself tilting at windmills and fighting invisible enemies instead of addressing real threats.