This year (2014) the Netherlands will host the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) on the 24-25 March. The United States' President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have already confirmed their attendance. As of writing, confirmation is still being awaited on whether South African President Jacob Zuma will attend. This year's Summit, according to its website, is aimed at preventing nuclear terrorism by reducing the amount of nuclear material and radioactive sources, enhancing the security of nuclear material and radioactive sources, tackling the smuggling of nuclear material, and improving international cooperation.
The first NSS was held in Washington in 2010 where President Zuma participated. This was followed by a second summit in Seoul in 2012 where Presidents Obama and Zuma met on the margins to discuss nuclear and other important matters. In Seoul, Zuma stressed the importance of remaining alert to the risks posed by nuclear terrorism in a speech at a Leaders working dinner. The president also highlighted the need to implement the relevant international legally binding obligations on nuclear security and nuclear safety. Zuma went on to thank the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as well as the American government for their assistance with nuclear security measures at the different 2010 FIFA World Cup venues.
This is one of many examples of US-South Africa nuclear cooperation. America assisted South Africa in 2009 with the conversion of South Africa's Safari research reactor from the use of Highly Enriched Uranium fuel to Lowly Enriched Uranium. South Africa is one of the world's leading producers of the isotopes that are essential for nuclear medicine. This process is overseen by the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (NECSA).
That same year, in September 2009, the US and South Africa signed a bilateral agreement on cooperation in the research and development of nuclear energy. The two countries also share frequent US-South African energy dialogues.
NECSA is looking towards America and other countries in order to revive its domestic nuclear energy capabilities according to South African Energy Minister, Dikobe Ben Martins, who met with US industry representatives in December 2013. That same month NECSA signed MoUs with Russia's Atomstroyexport (ASE) and Germany's Nukem Technologies to develop "complex capital projects and facilities" in South Africa. This is expected to include nuclear services such as radioactive waste and used nuclear fuel management, decommissioning, and engineering.
South Africa's long-term nuclear energy goals are still uncertain at this point. However, several countries are interested in assisting Pretoria including China, France, Japan, Russia and of course the US. It appears the public is receiving mixed signals. Martins said the
government expects by the first quarter of 2014 to formally announce its clean energy capacity-building goals including 9.6 gigawatts of new nuclear build. However, South Africa's Department of Energy acknowledged around the same time that building nuclear power plants can be delayed as revised projections of electricity demand show that new nuclear power will not be required until after 2025 or possibly later. There are also other options available at their disposal such as regional hydro and shale gas, which could fulfil the requirement as part of their updated version of the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) for electricity, published for comment on their website.
Whatever South Africa decides regarding its domestic nuclear energy requirements, expect more US-South Africa bilateral and multilateral nuclear cooperation in the future. I can envision more non-proliferation awareness among industry and government on both the
legal and technical side. Furthermore, both countries are strong supporters of UN Security Council Resolution SCR 1540 that aims to combat Weapons of Mass Destruction proliferation. And they are both looking forward to a successful 2015 NPT Review Conference.
For now, let's hope President Zuma will once again attend the NSS and continue his strong participation and dedication to a more secure and safe world. We will keep an eye out for his confirmation of attendance.
Dr Scott Firsing is a current research fellow at the IGD. His research focuses on United States-Africa relations, and the international relations of Africa more generally.
His other current appointments include serving as the Director of the North American International School (NAIS) in Pretoria, the Director of Public Engagement at the Aerospace Leadership Academy and CEO of a research consultancy LINK Advisory. Dr Firsing is also an Adjunct Research Fellow at Monash University, South Africa where he previously served as a Senior Lecturer and Head of the International Studies Department. The founder of the African NGO Young People in International Affairs, Scott is a former employee of the United Nations, Department for Disarmament Affairs, and a former Bradlow Fellow at the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA).