ALGIERS—African nations pledged on Wednesday to tighten nuclear safety on a continent where often lax security, long exploited by arms smugglers, has raised recent concern about the safeguarding of uranium stockpiles.
"African Ministers and Officials... undertake to strengthen nuclear safety and security measures within a global approach aiming at promoting safe and accountable use of nuclear energy," at least 45 countries said in a joint statement.
The statement was issued at the end of a two-day meeting of African governments held under the auspices of the African Union and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on the peaceful uses of nuclear technology in Africa.
Nuclear security remains a concern in Africa even though it has been a nuclear weapons-free zone since South Africa gave up its atomic arms programme over a decade ago.
South Africa has Africa's only nuclear power plant, near Cape Town, and there are research reactors in South Africa, Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Nigeria, Ghana, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Morocco, industry officials say.
In November, diplomatic and intelligence sources said countries including Iran suspected of seeking nuclear arms may have exploited poor security in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to obtain uranium from the central African state.
Congo allows the IAEA, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, to conduct intrusive, short-notice inspections, diplomats say, but safety conditions at the often chaotic Shinkolobwe mines in its unstable Katanga province have given cause for concern.
Tehran says its nuclear programme is aimed solely at producing electricity and has denied getting uranium from Congo.
Raw uranium from Congo would have to be processed and enriched to a very high level of purity in order to be usable in weapons. Iran has its own limited uranium deposits but has made little progress in exploiting them, diplomats said.
IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei told the conference his agency had helped train its 38 African member States to strengthen nuclear security by improving controls, upgrading physical protection, improving detection equipment, providing emergency assistance, and training staff.
The agency had held training courses in Kenya, Senegal, Ghana and Algeria on the fight against illicit trafficking and held a course in Libya on protecting research reactors.
ElBaradei added without elaborating that the agency "has helped in risk reduction by assisting States in Africa to recover radioactive sources."