SA admits it made six nuclear bombs: De Klerk says weapons destroyed and no more will be built

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President F W de Klerk yesterday confirmed long-standing suspicions that South Africa had possessed nuclear weapons, but he said they had never been tested and had been destroyed. He said that the country would never build such devices again.

Seeking to place 'above doubt' undertakings South Africa made when signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in July 1991, Mr de Klerk told parliament that six 'nuclear fission devices' had been built after a decision in 1974 to develop a limited nuclear deterrent capability. But after he became president in 1989 the government had decided to terminate the programme.

Diplomatic sources said last night that the six devices were dismantled and destroyed early in 1990. The International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna said that it would be sending inspectors to South Africa.

At a press conference, Mr de Klerk refused to detail the technical capacity of the devices, but he did specify that no advanced thermonuclear explosives had been built.

In response to persistent allegations, he declared: 'South Africa has never conducted a clandestine nuclear test.' Asked to explain US satellite reports of a double flash over the South Atlantic in 1979, Mr de Klerk suggested it might have been the result of a meteorite collision.

He was keen to banish lingering perceptions that his government had not abandoned the sinister machinations of the apartheid past. 'Some countries have alleged that South Africa still has covert aspirations in this regard and that it has not fully disclosed its stockpile of enriched uranium . . . I wish today to confirm unequivocally that South Africa is adhering strictly to the requirements of the NPT.'

Mr de Klerk hinted that South Africa's stock of enriched uranium might be sold to the United States.