Some new details of South Africa's nuclear program have come to light, and it appears this white-ruled cuntry probably has the capability to power its own nuclear power plants -- or to create a nuclear weapon.
The information, according to the Johannesburg Star newspaper, was contained in a report of the Uranium Enrichment Corporation a topsecret facility set in mountainous terrain near the capital city of Pretoria.
The report indicates that South Africa is using a variation of the centrifuge process of enriching uranium. The process involves gasifying uranium, then spinning the gas in a large drum. The molecules of uranium are than separated and filtered out from the gas mixture.
South Africa appears to have added its own refinements to the centrifuge technology in order to produce fuel to power the Koeberg nuclear power plant, South Africa's first such facility. The power station, on the outskirts of Cape Town, is due to begin operation in 1983.
The United States was originally to have provided fuel for the Koeberg plant, but now refuses to send uranium here because South Africa refuses to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which is aimed at stopping the worldwide spread of nuclear weaponry.
Indeed, it appears that the South African enrichment process could be used to produce weapons-grade nuclear materials as well as power-plant fuel. South Africa is suspected of exploding a nuclear device somewhere in the south Atlantic Ocean late last year, although attempts to prove the charge have been inconclusive.
A number of questions about the country's nuclear capability remain unanswered. One is the cost of the South African-produced fuel. Some calculations indicate that despite the use of modern technology, the fuel produced here may be much more costly than in other countries. (However, South Africa, faced with the threat of worldwide economic sanctions due to its racial policies, may disregard price considerations to further its goal and economic self-sufficiency.) The cost of power from a nuclear plant -- especially in this coal-rich country -- may also be prohibitively high.