The African Commission on Nuclear Energy (AFCONE) has launched a five-year programme, which aims to strengthen nuclear material control measures in Africa. AFCONE said “Uplifting Nuclear Safeguards in Africa” is “an integral part of AFCONE’s Programme for Strengthening & Nuclear Material Accountancy & Control Systems in Africa from 2023-2027, implemented with expert support from Finland’s Radiation & Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK – Säteilyturvakeskus).”

It acknowledged the “generous support of the European Union and the Republic of Finland” for “this training on implementing safeguards related multilateral arrangements”. The four-day launch event was held at the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) in PretoriaIt included the programme’s first training course, hosted by Necsa and held in Midrand, between Johannesburg and Pretoria. The course was attended by 40 delegates, from Algeria, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Morocco, Namibia, Niger, Tanzania and Zambia, as well as South Africa.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards cover nuclear facilities and materials of all types, to ensure that nuclear materials are used only for peaceful purposes and that nuclear facilities are not misused. Currently, the IAEA has Comprehensive Safeguards Agreements (CSAs) with 47 African countries. Signing a CSA with the IAEA is legally required by the Pelindaba Treaty, which created the African Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone.

AFCONE was set up in 1996 to ensure compliance with the obligations under the Pelindaba Treaty which established an African nuclear weapons free zone. The treaty was signed in Cairo in April 1996 by 47 of the continent’s 53 states.

“African States are in different stages when it comes to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and many need to build capacity to maintain state systems of accounting for and control of nuclear materials, and to effectively implement IAEA safeguards,” said AFCONE executive secretary Enobot Agboraw. “In Africa, there is real momentum for developing safeguards. There is commitment at national levels, there is the regional support structure – AFCONE – and now we can also benefit from Finland’s top-of-the-line safeguards expertise. I see that in five years we can substantially improve regulatory control for nuclear materials in many African countries and build sustainable regional structures.”

STUK Director General Petteri Tiippana said this was “the beginning of an exciting journey as we have not previously worked in Africa on this scale”. He added: “However, we are experienced in regulatory control of nuclear materials and in providing expert support in non-proliferation matters, as Finland was the first country in the world to bring a CSA into force, over 50 years ago. Because we have the know-how, we have a duty to share knowledge. This is our way of contributing to safety globally.”

South Africa, through the Department of Mineral Resources & Energy and Necsa, is the safeguards programme’s Regional Collaborating Centre for Anglophone African countries. This involves providing analytical services, standardising technologies, carrying out nuclear research, training, and organising conferences. “Necsa brings on board extensive knowledge and expertise on nuclear safeguards,” said Necsa Group CEO Loyiso Tyabashe. “As a country we have a strong commitment towards non-proliferation as well as our ability to utilise nuclear energy and technology to contribute to our socioeconomic development.”

Image: Delegates at the programme launch (courtesy of AFCONE)