Dr. Messaoud Baaliouamer, Executive Secretary of the African Commission on Nuclear Energy (AFCONE) & His Excellency Ambassador Kanat Tumysh of Kazakhstan to the Republic of South Africa 

In a special interview with Dr Messaoud Baaliouamer, Executive Secretary of the African Commission on Nuclear Energy (AFCONE), dedicated to the 29th of August – the International Day against Nuclear Tests, the high-ranked African diplomat commended H.E. Mr. Nursultan Nazarbayev, First President of Kazakhstan and Leader of the Nation, for the initiative seeking to establish dialogue among nuclear-weapon-free zones (NWFZs). He also praised the role and contribution of Kazakhstan in the promotion of nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation of WMD, and a world free of nuclear weapons.

During conversation Dr Baaliouamer talked about scheduled joint activities to be organized by AFCONE Secretariat, Government of Kazakhstan, International Science and Technological Centre (ISTC) and other stakeholders in this sphere in September – November 2020.

The first event – an online webinar entitled “Virtual Meeting on Uranium Resources in Africa: Exploration, Exploitation and Cooperation Opportunities” with the participation of representatives of ISTC, AFCONE and the African Union, is expected to be held on September 8th, 2020.

And preliminarily in October-November 2020, the second event – an international online seminar on the theme – “BENEFITS FROM INTERREGIONAL DIALOGUE ON NUCLEAR GOVERNANCE: AFRICA AND CENTRAL ASIA” is planned to be organized jointly by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan and AFCONE Secretariat, ISTC. One of the outcomes is expected to be the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (AfNWFZ) and the Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia (CANWFZ).

According to the AFCONE Executive Secretary, the upcoming Webinar should be considered as the continuation of the International Seminar held in Nur-Sultan on 28 August 2019, on strengthening cooperation among the NWFZs. In his opinion, in the future, such international fora should become regular and need to be conducted on an annual basis.

Below is an interview between Dr Baaliouamer and the CEO and Founder of the Diplomatic Informer Magazine South Africa, Ms Susan Novela:

 Dr. Messaoud Baaliouamer, Executive Secretary of the African Commission on Nuclear Energy (AFCONE) & His Excellency Ambassador Kanat Tumysh of Kazakhstan to the Republic of South Africa, Mr. Yernur Tuyakbayev, Deputy Head of Mission Kazakhstan Embassy

Q-1. What is the significant role of women in nuclear disarmament affairs in Africa? 

Answer-1: As a scientist, I recognize the role women have played in the major developments of the sciences.

I place importance on the contribution of women in nuclear activities, in particular in research, development and education & training. I always try to involve more women in our programmes and hire women in nuclear research laboratories and centres. Moreover, we continue to encourage the African Union national representatives at different levels to employ more women in nuclear science. AFCONE started interactions with the Association of Women in Nuclear in South Africa (WIN-SA) and Women in Nuclear in Africa (WIN-Africa). We encourage these associations to develop every effort to identify experts in different nuclear fields related to the regional socio-economic challenges, as well as nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation issues.

I know personally excellent international experts in Health (Radiotherapy, Nuclear Medicine, Medical Physics), in Radiation and Nuclear Safety, in Agriculture (Crop Improvement), Industry (Radiation Technology and Non-Destructive Testing) etc, which should be involved in this efforts, to strengthen the WIN Programmes. We need to see more women involved at the top.

So, yes, we are convinced that women should represent more our States and Programmes in Africa. They need to play a major role in different fields, contributing to the safe and secure peaceful uses of nuclear energy in Africa, and how civil society should intervene.

Q-2. When you look at Africa, what are the benefits of the African Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty provisions in the development of Africa?

Answer-2: The provisions of the Pelindaba Treaty are responding to all the African countries’ issues, raised by nuclear energy, as follows:

  • Contribution to the global efforts towards total disarmament and stoppage of nuclear tests; Africa has already given concrete evidence of its commitment in these fields;
  • Strengthening the global efforts towards non-proliferation through verification processes;
  • Promotion of safe and secure peaceful uses of nuclear energy, in particular in the socio-economic priority fields;
  • Protection of African States against possible nuclear attacks on their territories.

Furthermore, the Pelindaba Treaty allows our continent to speak with one voice, while negotiating the review of the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the disarmament issues, the priority to allocate more funds to the development of peaceful uses of nuclear energy through international technical cooperation, the right to develop nuclear science and technology including through technology transfer, etc.

In addition, Africa, through the provisions of the Pelindaba Treaty (Treaty for which the African Union Commission is the depository), allow the gradual setup of an enabling environment to the creation of new Nuclear Weapons Free Zones, in particular the one in the Middle East.

One of the major interests of the African countries is to go ahead with promoting and developing peaceful use of nuclear energy as per Article 8 of the Pelindaba Treaty. We are already observing great impact with radiation applications in health, in particular in fighting cancer. We cannot imagine a national cancer plan without integrating nuclear medicine, radiotherapy, medical physics, and quality assurance programmes. Increasing mortality due to cancers is a really worrying health issue in African countries. In 2020, it is unimaginable that about twenty-eight countries in Africa lack a single radiotherapy unit! According to IARC, by 2030 1.4 million new cancer cases and 1 million deaths are foreseen in Africa.

Several African countries decided, for years now, to change the situation, in close cooperation with WHO and the IAEA. South Africa and other African countries are doing well by involving private partners to assist the governmental efforts.

AFCONE will make every effort to improve the situation on the continent, including through consolidating the synergy between all the stakeholders involved (WHO AFRO, AUC HRST & SA, AORTIC, IAEA, AFRA), Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries (TCDC) to facilitate delivery in Africa by African Centres of Excellence, more cooperation efforts in this fields with the AU Strategic Partners.

This year, hopefully, before November 2020, we will organize, in close cooperation and support with the African Union Commission Departments, a high level meeting on fighting cancer, in order to continue to mobilise the highest decision makers in Africa, inviting them to fully integrate in their national health programs, cancer plans, with nuclear medicine and radiation therapy services, among others. We will also help with Banks Financial support through long term loans. A Call to Action will be submitted for consideration and adoption.

Q-3. Entire planet annually observes the International Day against Nuclear Tests on 29th of August. What can you say about the role, played by H.E. Mr. Nursultan Nazarbayev, the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, and the Leader of the Nation in this regard?

Answer-3: I sincerely applaud the First President of Kazakhstan H.E. Mr. Nursultan Nazarbayev and commend the courage and action he took on the decisions at the national level: he succeeded and influenced efficiently the entire world. I believe that the world recognizes this just action and the impact of the decisions he made about the future. In this regard, we cordially congratulate H.E. Mr. Nursultan Nazarbayev, the Leader of the Kazakhstani Nation (Elbasy) on receiving on 26 August 2020, on the eve of the International Day against Nuclear Tests, the status of champion for a world free of nuclear tests to highlight Kazakhstan’s historic contribution to the global efforts toward a world free of nuclear weapons.

However, there are many humanitarian uses of nuclear science that can unite rather than divide the world.

Q-4. How do you see the impact of AFCONE in the region, with the current prospect of signing the Memorandum of Understanding between the African Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone (AfNWFZ) and the Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone in Central Asia (CANWFZ)?

Answer-4: It will be a historic and important moment to sign this agreement between the two zones. In this vein, along with Kazakhstani leadership for its initiative seeking to establish dialogue among nuclear-weapons-free zones (NWFZs), we are thankful also to the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs (UNODA), which facilitates this Inter-regional co-ordination. At the meeting of last year in August, we discussed further disarmament and non-proliferation from that angle and beyond.

We are going to organize a task force underpinned by the document, calling for all the nuclear weapons free zones to strengthen their coordination. This is an opportunity for us to really show our will and our decisiveness to implement the conclusions of the 2019 Nur-Sultan Seminar; we do not see any further impact in deciding our activities in separate nuclear weapons free zones. This is in fact among the main objectives of the 4th Conference of the NWFZ, planned last April 2020 and postponed because of COVID-19.

We want collaborative efforts to first discuss with the nuclear weapons states on the different issues, which remain unresolved, and perhaps contribute to the creation of new nuclear-weapon-free zones, in particular in the Middle East, which is one of the most urgent areas, needing to be addressed at UN level.

Enhanced cooperation should continue to consolidate the efforts of all the states that are parties to the Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zones Treaties of Pelindaba (Africa); Semipalatinsk (Central Asia); Bangkok (Southeast Asia); Rarotonga (South Pacific); Tlatelolco (Latin America).

As I said earlier, there are many humanitarian uses of nuclear science that can unite rather than divide the world.

We are inviting the other NWFZs to integrate into their cooperation, the safe and secure peaceful uses of nuclear energy and strengthening education & training and Research & Development programmes in nuclear science and technology. This is why we are organizing soon, on 8 September 2020, in collaboration with our Partners from the International Science and Technology Centre (ISTC) based in Nur-Sultan (Kazakhstan) and the IAEA (Vienna), a Virtual Conference on Uranium Resources.  As you may know, Africa is home to about 20 % of the global uranium resources and Kazakhstan about 14 %. In addition, Kazakhstan has been hosting the IAEA Low Enrichment Uranium (LEU) Bank since 2017. This example will be one of the first of other Inter-Regional Conferences between the NWFZs.

Q-5. What are the timeframes for the aspiration of a nuclear-weapons-free world? And what will it take to get there?

Answer-5: This aspiration is debated each year at different UN Events and Venues. The Conference on Disarmament and the NPT Review Conference are expected to reach satisfactory results through implementation by all the States of the Resolutions and Action Plans agreed to previously.

We are supporting the UN Efforts, calling on those States, in particular in Africa that have not signed or ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) to do so as soon as possible.

Recently, during the commemoration of the 11th Anniversary of Entry into Force of the Pelindaba Treaty (15 July 2020), we also called to the signature and ratification by all the African Countries of the Treaty Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).  AFCONE is seeing the TPNW as reinforcing the global disarmament and non-proliferation.

Dr. Messaoud Baaliouamer, Executive Secretary of the African Commission on Nuclear Energy (AFCONE) & His Excellency Ambassador Kanat Tumysh of Kazakhstan to the Republic of South Africa, Mr. Yernur Tuyakbayev, Deputy Head of Mission Kazakhstan Embassy, & Ms. Susan Novela, CEO & Publisher, The Diplomatic Informer Magazine SA 

Q-6. Are there viable alternatives to nuclear energy and medicine?

Answer-6: Both African Union’s 2063 Agenda and universal Agenda 2030 with its 17 SDGs recognize the role of Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) as essential enablers for development and place priority on partnerships as a critical means of implementation.

Due to the growing number of African countries interested in peaceful applications of nuclear techniques to address specific development issues, we are already observing the increased needs at national and regional levels for building or further strengthening nuclear infrastructure and enhancing nuclear expertise and know-how to enable the African end-users to respond more effectively to their development priorities.

In this respect, AFCONE, according to the recent (December 2019) Report of the Specialised Technical Committee on Education, Science and Technology (STC EST) will be a major vehicle for facilitating and enhancing the development of Nuclear Science & Technology and know-how and their transfer to and amongst the African Countries.

All the Countries are benefiting, at different levels, from peaceful uses of nuclear energy. These applications, developed safely are used routinely in generating electricity. According to data for December 2019, there are 447 nuclear power reactors operating worldwide. Thirty countries currently use nuclear power and 28 are considering, planning or actively working to include it in their energy mix.

Considering that rapid economic and population growth in Africa will have profound implications for the energy sector, especially also due to the need for sustainable solutions to address climate change, nuclear power should be considered in the Energy Mix Strategies of African Countries, according to the April 2019 Report of the AUC Specialised Technical Committee (STC) on Transport, Transcontinental and Interregional Infrastructure, Energy and Tourism (TTIIET). This is already the case in several countries (South Africa, Egypt, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and other newcomers).

AFCONE will work closely with the African Union Commission, the IAEA and the State Parties, in order to contribute to the adequate implementation of the nuclear power programmes, respecting the IAEA Milestones Approach enabling a sound development process.

Regarding the Applications in Health, I specified above the essential role radiation technologies are already playing in improving diagnosis and treatments through medical imaging, nuclear medicine, radiotherapy and medical physics. Significant developments are observed in Africa, but there still a lot to do in order to reach the international standards in terms of availability of dedicated equipment, adequate well trained skills to operate and manage safely the specific infrastructure and implementation of quality assurance programmes in the delivery of services. Through our activities with all the Stakeholders, including the AU Strategic Partners support, we should be able to improve gradually the situation and make available as much as possible safe and efficient radiation technologies in the majority of the African Union Member States.

Q-7. How safe are the disposal arrangements? 

Answer-7: The Pelindaba Treaty provisions call for the promotion of peaceful uses of nuclear energy, however the Safety, Security and Safeguard concerns are raised with the highest importance. Article 07 is dedicated to the Prohibition of dumping of radioactive waste.

In fact, the modern management of radioactive waste generated is one of the prerequisites for the development of any peaceful nuclear application, including for health. As you may know, more than 10 of the 19 IAEA nuclear infrastructure issues are dedicated to Safety, Security, and Safeguards. Nuclear safety is a national responsibility but remains a global issue.

AFCONE is developing close cooperation with IAEA and the Forum of Nuclear Regulatory Bodies in Africa (FNRBA) in order to strengthen and fully apply the regulations in the field of radiation safety and security, including the modern management of radioactive waste.

The African Commission on Nuclear Energy (AFCONE), aware of the importance to the African and international community of ensuring that the use of nuclear energy is safe, well-regulated, and environmentally sound, recognised the need to identify, select and designate African Regional Collaborating Centres (RCCs) in order to assist with implementing the activities in the fields of Nuclear Safety, Security and Safeguards.

Q-8: What is the main challenges preventing African countries from safely and securely using nuclear energy?

Answer-8: In my personal point of view, the main ones are:

  • The firm governmental decisions to integrate adequately peaceful uses of nuclear energy within the national socio-economic development plans;
  • The inculcation of a safety culture at all the levels – from the National Nuclear Regulatory Authorities to all the staff involved in the programmes and the population;
  • Capacity-building through the development of the appropriate Human Resource strategies, followed by a sustainable programme of education & training in nuclear science & technology.

Q-9: Considering the Current Status of Nuclear Science and Technology Development in Africa, what is the AFCONE Strategy towards Technology Transfer?

Answer-9: Science Transfer is a Prerequisite to the Technology Transfer.

When we recognise that, we understand the priority to give to excellence in Education & Training, Research & Development in Nuclear Science and Technology in our National and Regional Programmes.

AFCONE has decided to encourage ownership in this field through encouraging training the trainers and support to the Youth and Women in Nuclear. The Commission has launched since 2019 the formalisation of its Cooperation programmes with several partners, including the IAEA (Vienna), ESARDA (JRC/EU), International Science and Technology Centre based in Nur Sultan (Kazakhstan).

In fact, all the African Union Strategic Partners, advanced in the field of nuclear science and technology, are identified as potential partners in such programmes for the benefit of the African Experts, Scientists and Youth.