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Tuesday, 24 September, 2002, 10:59 GMT 11:59 UK
Iraq 'sought African uranium'
Tony Blair and Saddam Hussein
Britain says Iraq wanted African uranium
Britain's dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction says that Saddam Hussein tried to get "significant quantities of uranium from Africa".

Africa produces about 20% of the world's uranium. Four African countries have exported uranium in recent years - Niger, Namibia, South Africa and Gabon.

Other countries - Zambia, Central African Republic and Botswana - are believed to have exploitable deposits.

Africa's uranium production in 2001
Niger - 3,096 tonnes
Namibia - 2,239 tonnes
South Africa - 898 tonnes
Source: Uranium Information Centre

However, the uranium produced in Africa is not of weapons grade and would need processing before it could be used in weapons.

South Africa produces uranium as a by-product of gold and copper mining and has a domestic nuclear energy and research programme.

Under the apartheid government, which was in power until 1994, it had a covert nuclear weapons programme. The BBC Correspondent programme in March 2001 uncovered evidence suggesting South Africa had supplied enriched uranium to Iraq in 1988.

South Africa halted its weapons programme a year later and dismantled its weapons-making and enrichment capabilities before signing the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in 1991.

The majority of Africa's uranium is produced by mining consortiums involving significant French, British or South African investment and the minerals produced are mainly exported to France and Japan.

Apartheid bomb

The main uranium producers in South Africa are the Hartebeestfontein Gold Mining Company, Palabora Mining Company, Western Areas Mining in Transvaal and the Buffelsfontein Gold Mining Company.

South Africa has a domestic nuclear industry with two power reactors at Koeberg, north of Cape Town, and a research reactor at Pelindaba.

In 1973, Prime Minister Johannes Vorster approved a weapons programme to develop a nuclear deterrent. The Centre for Non-Proliferation Studies in Monterey, California, says that by 1989, when the nuclear weapons programme was publicly abandoned by President de Klerk, South Africa had six "air-deliverable nuclear weapons".

The South Africans weapons programme was dismantled after 1989. The International Atomic Energy Agency has inspected and verified that it has been dismantled in its entirety. This included the decommissioning of uranium enrichment plants.

The BBC television programme Correspondent reported in March 2001 that Iraqi defectors, including a nuclear engineer and an assistant to Saddam Hussain's son Uday, had revealed that Iraq obtained uranium for its nuclear programme from South Africa.

The deal had been signed in 1986 and the uranium delivered in 1988. An unnamed South African intelligence official was cited by the programme as saying that the US Government approved the deal.

"The story is true," he told Correspondent. "About 50 kilograms were sold to the Iraqis. The Americans gave the green light for the deal."

Uranium industry

Africa's other producers - Niger, Namibia and Gabon - export unprocessed uranium oxide.

Niger is the world's third largest exporter of uranium and Namibia the fourth, according to the Uranium Information Centre.

Gabon ceased exports after 1999 - reserves at the largest mine, Mounana, had been depleted.

Niger's uranium industry is operated by the French company Cogema in a joint venture with the Societe des Mines del'Air and the state-owned mineral company Onarem.

The Namibian output comes from the Rossing mine, run by the Rossing Corporation, whose majority shareholder is the British mining company Rio Tinto.

The Central African Republic is believed to have deposits of uranium, but these have not been exploited.

On 20 September, the republic's government denied reports that it had signed a deal giving Libya a 99-year lease for mineral exploration, including uranium prospecting.

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See also:

24 Sep 02 | Politics
24 Sep 02 | Politics
23 Sep 02 | Panorama
20 Sep 02 | Business
02 Mar 01 | Correspondent
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