Friday, November 16, 2007

S. Africa Still Mum Over Nuclear Site Break-In

S. Africa Mum Over Nuclear Site Break-In, Few Answers A Week After Burglars Shoot Man, Steal Computer At Secretive Nuclear Reactor - CBS News
A week after gunmen broke into South Africa's most secretive nuclear facility, shot a man and tried to steal a computer, the nation's government remains mostly mum about the incident, the New York Times reports.
On Tuesday, officials acknowledged that the Pelindaba reactor had come under attack that same night by a second team of gunmen who were also repelled - and also escaped - after guards sounded an alarm.

The Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa, the government-created heir to the apartheid nuclear program, said it suspended six security officials after the assaults and hinted that the break-ins were inside jobs, possible only with intimate knowledge of the elaborate defenses.

The attack is raising questions among advocates and analysts about the wisdom of plans by South Africa and other African countries to embrace nuclear energy as a solution to chronic power shortages and the looming problems of climate change. It is also a severe embarrassment to the South African government.

So far, no one has offered a plausible explanation of the assaults. A Pretoria News report, withdrawn under government pressure, suggested a love triangle involving Gerber and his fiancée, a plant supervisor. Others have suggested terrorism, without evidence.

The country's nascent anti-nuclear movement called the break-ins evidence of the government's lax approach to nuclear power. "They've failed to control activities there; they've failed to protect the people," said Mashile Phalane of Earthlife Africa, an environmental and social justice advocacy group.

Palindaba researches advanced scientific issues, and, some experts say, has bomb-grade enriched uranium. The nation's apartheid government devised and built as many as seven atomic bombs in the 1970s and 1980s.

The government renounced the nuclear bomb program late in the apartheid era, and democratic South Africa said it has obliterated most of the technology. Critics are skeptical, the Times notes, but it is unclear if bomb-making information would have been so casually stored as to be available to burglars.

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