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South African Nuclear History

This collection provides a look at nearly twenty-five years of South African nuclear policy. These documents shed new light on the country’s unique nuclear history, from early uranium supply arrangements under the United States-South Africa Atomic Energy Bilateral to the South African response to the September 1979 Vela incident, through the early 1990s when it announced the existence and subsequent destruction of its nuclear program. This collection is a result of the partnership between the Wilson Center’s Nuclear Proliferation International History Project and Monash South Africa. See also Nuclear Proliferation, and the related collections in the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project. (Image, Pelindaba Nuclear Research Centre, South Africa, NJR ZA)

Popular Documents

March 24, 1993

Speech by South African President F.W. De Klerk to a Joint Session of Parliment on Accession to the Non-Proliferation Treaty

The Permanent Representative of South Africa to the United Nations sends an extract of a speech delivered by South African President F. W. de Klerk announcing developments relating to South Africa’s nuclear capability, the normalization of international relations and accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

November 8, 2019

The VELA Incident: A Statement Written by Dr. Alan Berman

A statement written by Dr. Alan Berman about the 1979 VELA Incident.

December 1979

Interagency Intelligence Memorandum, US Director of Central Intelligence, NI IIM 79-10028, 'The 22 September 1979 Event' [2004 Release]

This study begins, as the National Security Council requested, by assuming that the September 22, 1979 Vela event was a nuclear detonation. It discusses the possibility that the detonation could have occurred due to an accident, and noted the Defense Intelligence Agency’s suggestion that the Soviet Union might have had reasons to conduct a covert test in violation of its treaty commitments. But most of the study is concerned with other possibilities to explain the incident – a secret test by South Africa or Israel, or India, or Pakistan, or a secret joint test by South Africa and Israel. The 2004 version, in some instances, contains more information through page 10 than the 2013 version.

November 22, 2019

Leonard Weiss, 'My Involvement with the 1979 Vela Satellite (6911) Event'

Statement made by Leonard Weiss about his memories of the 1979 VELA Incident.

May 4, 1960

South Africa Department of Foreign Affairs, 'Proposed Application to United States for Assistance in Meeting Costs of Research Reactor in Western Province'

Discusses how South Africa should go about applying to the United States for financial assistance for the building of a research reactor in the Western Province, under President Eisenhower's 'Atoms for Peace' program.