S. African nuclear facility attacked
November 11, 2007 12:44 PM   Subscribe

Nuclear Facility in South Africa attacked by armed intruders. According to the Pretoria News, four armed men broke into the control room of the Pelindaba Nuclear Research Center, shooting "a senior emergency officer" in the process. The government nuclear agency Necsa has told the paper that publishing the story would be a violation of the National Keypoints Act. The facility seems to be part of South Africa's nuclear weapons program.
posted by Kirth Gerson (18 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is fascinating, but the details are frustratingly few, like an early chapter in a Tom Clancy novel.
posted by stbalbach at 12:57 PM on November 11, 2007


I thought South Africa voluntarily renounced its nuclear weapons?
posted by nasreddin at 12:59 PM on November 11, 2007


Definitely a little light on the details. What happened to the attackers? Did they comprimise anything at the facility? Was this a reactor? (The way it's written, it seems the reader is assumed to know the purpose of the facility).
posted by brain cloud at 1:09 PM on November 11, 2007


I thought South Africa voluntarily renounced its nuclear weapons? - posted by nasreddin

So did I.

"... police spokesperson Superintendent Louis Jacobs said that no arrests had been made" - in other words, they got away.
posted by Termite at 1:29 PM on November 11, 2007


What a strange, shocking story. It appears from the article that all the known details came directly from Gerber, and that Nesca is working hard to shush the whole thing up. How did the paper find out about Gerber being shot in the first place? Is Pelindaba still being used to research nuclear weapons? (It seems a little unclear to me, from the language used in the second link.) Sinister stuff.
posted by maryh at 1:33 PM on November 11, 2007


What do you mean by "seems" to be part of their nuclear weapons program? That's a fairly loaded word. I'm pretty sure that South Africa did more then claim to drop it's nuclear weapon's program.
posted by delmoi at 1:36 PM on November 11, 2007


Oh, and this:

"Pelindaba" is derived from the words pelile meaning "finished." and 'indaba' meaning "discussion".

That's a pretty blunt name for a facility that hosted (hosts?) a nation's nuclear weapon research program.
posted by maryh at 1:38 PM on November 11, 2007


That's a pretty blunt name

I wonder if it's referring to Louis XIV's "ultima ratio regum." ("the final argument of kings"--stamped on French cannon)
posted by nasreddin at 1:51 PM on November 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


In other news...
posted by samsara at 2:39 PM on November 11, 2007


As I recall, the voluntary nuclear disarmement of South Africa was carried out by the apartheid regime, in its last days. It's possible that the program was revived since.
posted by kickingtheground at 2:40 PM on November 11, 2007


Remember the good old days of the '60s and Tom Lehrer's bouncy nuclear-proliferation song "Who's Next?"
South Africa wants two, that's right:
One for the black and one for the white.
posted by wendell at 2:58 PM on November 11, 2007


You're all correct - S. Africa did dismantle its nuclear weapon program.
The Republic of South Africa is the first and (thus far) only nation to have successfully developed nuclear weapons, and then voluntarily relinquished that capability.
That was such a strange concept that it didn't even cross my mind.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:34 PM on November 11, 2007


South Africa has been into some awful shit — and probably still is. Let's not forget their anthrax program.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:39 PM on November 11, 2007


Bizarrely... I drove past that yesterday. Didn't look that secure and I didn't see any guards on the entrance.

N'th: They did dismantle/destory their weapons. And it was indeed the apartheid goverment who did so before they gave up power. One could cynically point out that it wasn't, therefore, an entirely selfless act.

South Africa has been into some awful shit — and probably still is. Let's not forget their anthrax program.

Seriously, that was the previous, odious regime's drive to preserve their own "security" against the rest of Africa by pretty much direct threats - whether nuclear or alternative solutions. I don't see that the current government would have any motivation to retain any such programmes, which were all probably also dismantled by the apatheid administration also -- just without a fanfare. The new SA has enough complex problems to deal with, none of which can be resolved by weaponry.
posted by NailsTheCat at 9:05 PM on November 11, 2007


Paging Pendevil, please report to 66427

I didn't even hear about this until the link here, and I'm living in South Africa. Not in my local paper, but don't get broadcast TV and don't listen to local radio.

Perhaps they simply wanted to steel some fuel to create a reactor for power? The power company is utter crap, and my local paper is rather bad, too. (note, in spite of the story in the paper, the writer didn't bother to actually dig up and write the damn outage schedule). All this and I live in a place known for excessive wind, yet not a windmill generator in sight.
posted by Goofyy at 10:00 PM on November 11, 2007


...the voluntary nuclear disarmament of South Africa was carried out by the apartheid regime...

Arms Control Wonk has a May 16, 2006 post quoting a Newsweek interview with former South African president F.W. de Klerk:
I wasn’t part of the inner circle that developed [the program]. It was not my decision to build [the bomb], and I did not have the power to stop it. I was never enthusiastic about it. But as it was explained [to me] then, it was built never to be used, but to have it as a deterrent—to almost be used as a shield. It was built in the face of a definite threat, a definite strategy by the U.S.S.R., to directly or indirectly gain control of the whole of southern Africa … When I became president this threat changed in the sense that the Berlin Wall came down. Suddenly the U.S.S.R. was no longer this world power…
He then mentions that SA voluntarily gave up nuclear weapons because the Soviet threat evaporated (and to show the world that SA was serious about internal change), not to prevent the weapons from falling into the hands of the African National Congress.

Speculation remains as to whether the 1979 Vela Incident was a South African atmospheric nuclear test detected by an American reconnaissance satellite, and whether SA and Israel collaborated on the test.
posted by cenoxo at 10:15 PM on November 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


We don't have a nuclear weapons programme anymore. We do have a nuclear energy programme. Pelindaba is a research/processing centre. SA currently has one commercial scale nuclear power plant in the Western Cape (Koeberg) and is currently heavily investing in Pebble Bed Modular Reactor technology. Ultimately the plan is for 20 PBMR reactors around the country to wean us of our love for cheap, dirty coal which provides a staggering 95% (I believe) of our power.

If you ask me these are a bunch of opportunistic thieves. Remember this is the same country that a few years ago had a robbery in the Presidential residence in Cape Town, the equivalent of a thief managing to sneak in to the White House or Camp David.
posted by PenDevil at 10:23 PM on November 11, 2007


South Africa has in fact become a leading voice for continental disarmament and non-proliferation. I doubt it's a nuclear weapons facility now. The African Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone Treaty is in fact nicknamed the Pelindaba Treaty -- it would be pretty brazen to snub a treaty you organized and hosted like that.

"Pelindaba" is derived from the words pelile meaning "finished." and 'indaba' meaning "discussion".

I wonder if it's referring to Louis XIV's "ultima ratio regum." ("the final argument of kings"--stamped on French cannon)

Could be. Though what sprung to my mind was the first rule of Fight Club.

I tend to think PenDevil has it right, though. South Africa just has a horrendous epidemic of crime and no place is immune. You'd think they'd have more guards, though.
posted by dhartung at 12:55 AM on November 12, 2007


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