SOUTH Africa's disclosure that it had secretly built six nuclear bombs in the 1970s, then voluntarily dismantled its nuclear arsenal and capacity according to international requirements, has been welcomed both inside the country and in Western capitals.
But there is still concern in diplomatic and political circles about the size of Pretoria's stockpiles of highly enriched uranium.
The African National Congress (ANC), while welcoming the statement, has demanded that President Frederik de Klerk disclose all the details of the weapons program, the extent of international cooperation, and the size of stockpiles of highly enriched uranium.
Western powers have long suspected South Africa of possessing a nuclear capability, but the country consistently refused to confirm or deny the speculation.
Mr. De Klerk made clear that the dramatic disclosure had been made in response to recent reports in the United States media that the country still had enough highly enriched uranium to make between 12 and 24 atomic bombs and that it had not disclosed all the highly enriched uranium in its possession. He said these suspicions were harming the commercial potential of the nuclear industry and the export of high technology products.
The disclosure has also defused long-standing US and international concerns that South Africa's nuclear capability could be transferred to hostile states - like Libya and Iraq - under a future majority government. Pretoria officials have shared this concern.
Noting that South Africa had gone further than required by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the international nuclear watchdog agency, a Western diplomat said De Klerk's initiative "is an unprecedented action. No country has ever admitted to building a device, dismantled it, terminated the program, and then made its facilities open to international inspection."
De Klerk's announcement was welcomed in separate statements by the IAEA; the White House; Sen. John Glenn (D), of Ohio, a major proponent of nuclear non-proliferation efforts; and by the US State Department.
"We welcome the statement that South Africa has destroyed all its nuclear devices and is adhering strictly to the requirements of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, [which South Africa signed in July 1991], and will continue to do so," said George Stephanopoulos, a spokesman for President Clinton.
The IAEA, noting that there had been 115 inspections of South Africa's nuclear facilities since July 1991, said it would take up South Africa's offer to inspect sites involved in the former weapons program and review historical records as soon as possible.
Following De Klerk's announcement, Waldo Stumpf, chief executive of the semi-governmental Atomic Energy Corporation, said South Africa still possesses an undisclosed quantity of highly enriched uranium, but he insisted the full inventory had been disclosed to the IAEA.
He dismissed recent reports in the US media that South Africa was planning to sell the uranium to the US or to any other country. He says that the highly enriched uranium could be used in South Africa's research reactor for isotope production.
De Klerk told a hushed Parliament Wednesday that South Africa developed six "nuclear fission devices" from 1974 for "deterrent purposes." He said the project, which cost around $270 million, had been divulged to only a handful of Cabinet ministers on a need-to-know basis.
De Klerk said South Africa would have discreetly informed major powers that South Africa had nuclear capability, he said, in order to persuade them to intervene if the situation in southern Africa deteriorated beyond a certain point.
He said that although South Africa had developed a nuclear bomb it had never developed a weapon to deliver the device nor carried out a nuclear test.