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Countering Bias and Misinformation mainly about the Arab-Israel conflict

The Guardian on Israel and South Africa's nuclear program

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as well as Israel and Souh Africa's apartheid regime

From Maurice Ostroff
To The Readers' Editor,
The Guardian.
cc. The Press Complaints Commission
 
June 2, 2007
 
Dear Murray Armstrong,

Brothers in Arms by Chris McGreal

Thank you for your email. Having now studied the PCC's adjudication I respectfully ask you and the PCC to please reconsider this matter in view of new information and the fact that the PCC delay rules do not apply since McGreal's article remains available on your website.
 
I refer in particular to Mr. McGreal�s attribution to Alon Liel of the statement "The biggest secret of all was the nuclear one. Israel provided expertise and technology that was central to South Africa's development of its nuclear bombs."
 
I quote below, extracts from the PCC adjudication in italics followed by my remarks in plain font.
 
a)  "The newspaper was entitled in the Commission's view  to select material, in the form of quotations (which had not been disputed by the people quoted)"
 
The fact is that the quotation attributed to Alon Liel is disputed. As mentioned in my letter of May 20, Mr.Liel informed me categorically that while he did discuss conventional arms with Mr. McGreal, he definitely did not discuss nuclear matters as he has no knowledge of this subject.

That this claim is a gross exaggeration was confirmed on May 2, 2007, when the Johannesburg Mail and Guardian reported on the trial of Gerhard Wisser and Daniel Geiges, in South Africa, revealing the major part played by Germany and Pakistan in developing South Africa�s nuclear program. Wisser admitted that a company he set up supplied parts imported from Germany to South Africa's state Uranium Enrichment Corporation during the late 1970s and early 1980s and that a close aide of the notorious Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of the Pakistani atomic bomb supplied plans for the essential pipework.
 
b) "The newspaper cited several other sources in support of the claim that Israel assisted South Africa in developing nuclear weapons and its arms industry, the article had quoted several named sources in support of its contention".
 
I can find no quotes of sources in the article under review in support of the claim about nuclear cooperation other than the incorrect reference Mr. Liel. Please advise if I have missed the sources to which the adjudicator refers.
 
c) " ..it emerged that South Africa sold yellowcake to Israel and Israel supplied enough tritium to South Africa to manufacture 12 atomic bombs".
 
I can find no reference to yellowcake nor tritium in McGreal�s article. But the above statement by the adjudicator is evidently correct, though it must be mentioned that tritium is not used only for weapons. It is also used for example, in self-powered lighting devices such as watches, road and exit signs.
 
An effortless search in technical literature or even the internet would have revealed conclusively that tritium is neither the main, nor an essential ingredient of nuclear weapons. A modicum of deeper research would have revealed that tritium can only be used to amplify the output of an implosion bomb not a gun type bomb. According to the Nonproliferation Review, South Africa opted for a tungsten gun type, using tungsten from Rhodesia, Zaire, and Zambia rather than an implosion device. The tritium therefore could not used in SA�s nuclear weapon program and instead it was eventually used in devices such as road signs.

This is the only material imported from Israel in a long list of major equipment, including 6 to 7 kg of heavy water supplied by Norway, enriched uranium and complete reactors by the USA, France, Belgium, Switzerland, China, Pakistan, the Federal Republic of Germany and Western Germany as detailed in appendix A hereto.
 
By comparison with the major players, it stretches the imagination to suggest that Israel�s role was anything even near to central.
 
d) "While the Commission acknowledged that the complainant was able to question the merits of such claims, it felt that the newspaper was entitled to publish them, provided that their provenance was made clear in the article".
 
If by provenance is meant records or documents authenticating the author�s claims, such provenance is sadly lacking in the original article. One may question whether a responsible newspaper is really entitled to publish claims which have not been reasonably checked for truthfulness and which may therefore mislead the public. A brief research would have revealed the type of information contained in appendix A that immediately disproves the claim made by McGreal.
 
One may ask too, whether it is ethical for a journalist to express opinions and provide factoids out of context.

e) "The complainant was seeking to impose a political viewpoint. Many of his points were matters of interpretation, and some related to claims made by those interviewed and not by the journalist. The subject matter was largely historic, disputed and contentious, but the journalist�s work was based on sound and accurate journalism".

It was the author not the complainant who was evidently seeking to impose a political viewpoint, while the complainant was attempting to set the record straight. Is the adjudicator saying that it is it is not legitimate to question the veracity of claims made by those interviewed?
 
As the PCC code of conduct, requires a fair opportunity for reply to inaccuracies promptly and with due prominence, I appeal to you to give due consideration to this request for an early prominent correction, thereby justifying the code's declared intention that it be honoured not only to the letter but also in the full spirit.
 
Sincerely,
Maurice Ostroff

Appendix A
South Africa's nuclear imports

The following information has been garnered from several sources including a paper "Chronology of South Africa's Nuclear Program" by Zondi Masiza published in The Nonproliferation Review/Fall 1993 and from a report by the The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI)  and the Nuclear Control Institute, Washington  .

See http://www.nti.org/e_research/profiles/SAfrica/Nuclear/3493.html
http://cns.miis.edu/pubs/npr/vol01/11/masiza11.pdf and
http://www.nci.org/i/ib12997.htm

In 1981, China supplied South Africa with 60 tons of unsafeguarded enriched uranium that may have enabled South Africa to triple weapons-grade uranium output.

Norway exported approximately 450 tons of heavy water between the 1930s and 1988, when the Brundtland government banned further exports.  South Africa received 6 to 7 kg.

In 1965 Allis Chalmers of the US supplied the 20 MW Safari-1 nuclear reactor with 90% enriched uranium

1976 the French consortium of Framatome-Framateg undertook to "...supply capital works, nuclear fuel and services for Koeberg Units 1 and 2."

1977 South Africa barters 50 metric tons of yellowcake for 30 grams of Israeli tritium.
South Africa and Israel are suspected of conducting a joint nuclear test in the South Atlantic. Later investigations indicate this test did not actually occur.

1980 1982.  Two German firms, Neue Technologien GmbH (NTB) and Physikalisch-Technische Beratung (PTB), exported an ultrasound device used in the fuel fabrication process and in 1982 MAN-Energie of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) supplied the Koeberg nuclear power station with inspection equipment; for  Koeberg-1 and -2 reactor pressure vessels.

Three batches of UF6 for Koeberg power plant arrived at the Franco-Belge de Fabrication de Combustibles (FBFC) nuclear fuel fabrication plant in Roman, France. Ihe UF6 comes from Synaton of Belgium and the Kaiseraugst nuclear power firm - a joint venture of Switzerland, France, and West Germany. The material was enriched at the Tricastin gaseous diffusion plant, a Eurodif facility.

South Africa purchased enriched uranium from Kaiseraugst (a Swiss utility) thus reducing US leverage over South Africa.
 
The Koeberg nuclear power plant was provided by Framatome of France featuring technology from Westinghouse and quality assurance practices from Gilbert/Commonwealth (US).

Swuco and Edlow International of the US,  broker a deal between European the Swiss Power Utility Consortium, Belgium's Synatom, and South Africa's ESCOM for transfer of approximately 100 tons of excess enriched uranium to South Africa.

1983-84 Framatome of France sent a repaired set of 18 control rod drive mechanisms to the Koeberg plant

South Africa secretly hired 25 US reactor operators and technicians to work at the Koeberg nuclear power plant; (less than 5% U-235).

The Swiss Foreign Affairs Department looks into charges that Sulzer Brothers, a Swiss firm, is considering selling a heavy water plant to South Africa.

1986 In spite of sanctions imposed by France, Framatome was still supplying the Koeberg nuclear power station with nuclear fuel and Scandiflash of Sweden sold South Africa a "roentgen absorber" which makes it possible to carry out a nuclear explosion under laboratory conditions.

1987 France delivers a Thomson-CSF simulator to the Electricity Supply Commission to simulate that company's two Framatome/Alsthom units.

1989 It was reported that about 300 nuclear experts work for the South African nuclear program.
Argentina's Comisiion Nacional de Energia Atomica (CNEA) shared design information on nuclear fuel cycle technology with South Africa.

1990 Framatome supplied the Koeberg PWR with new control rod guide tube split pins and assists ESCOM in replacing the rods.

1991 Framatome replaced all 114 control rod guide tube split pins at South Africa's Koeberg-2.

1992 According to a Danish researcher, South Africa was providing employment for about 500 experts from the former Soviet nuclear arms industry.
 
1993 A laser expert from Bulgaria joins South Africa's Atomic Energy Corporation(AEC) as a consultant to provide technical assistance. 

1997 South African police and immigration officials report that 40 Chinese nuclear technicians are working in the South African zirconium tubing plant. It is not confirmed when the technicians exactly started working 
 
The Sunday Independent and SABC-TV reveals that China is selling titanium processing plant to the Atomic Energy Cooperation (AEC) of South Africa for $10 million, reportedly in exchange for a zirconium tubing plant worth $5 million to be provided to China. Allegations were denied by the S. African nuclear export authority.

 

 

On May 20, Maurice Ostroff  wrote

To The Readers' Editor
The Guardian.

Dear Ms. Siobhain Butterworth
 
I refer to the article "Brothers in arms - Israel's secret pact with Pretoria" by Chris McGreal published in the Guardian in February 2006.  Under the subheading "Going nuclear" McGreal dramatically, but incorrectly alleged "The biggest secret of all w"s the nuclear one. Israel provided expertise and technology that was central to South Africa's development of its nuclear bombs".
 
Not only was this statement completely erroneous, Mr McGreal misleadingly attributed the incorrect information to Alon Liel. Immediately following the above paragraph he wrote "All that I'm telling you was completely secret," says Liel.
 
I have discussed the matter with Mr. Liel who informs me categorically that while he did discuss conventional arms he did not in any way refer to nuclear technology as he has no knowledge of this subject. I trust you will agree that this is a violation of the Guardian�s code of conduct which requires that direct quotations should not be changed to alter their context or meaning.
 
Just a little research of authoritative sources would have convinced Mr.McGreal of the absurdity of his claim. A paper prepared for the Non-proliferation Education Centre, discloses how South Africa was among several main "nodes" of a Pakistani nuclear-related network that exported know-how on uranium enrichment and centrifugation technology (http://tinyurl.com/2pba48).
 
The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) has catalogued a complete list of sources of South Africa�s imports of nuclear equipment and technicians since 1965. They include the USA, Switzerland, China, France, the Federal Republic of Germany and Western Germany
 
In reporting on the trial of Gerhard Wisser, and Daniel Geiges the Johannesburg Mail and Guardian on May 2, 2007, revealed the major part played by Germany and Pakistan. Wisser admitted that a company he set up in 1966, supplied parts imported from Germany to South Africa's state Uranium Enrichment Corporation (Ucor) during the late 1970s and early 1980s and that a close aide of the notorious Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of the Pakistani atomic bomb supplied plans for the essential pipework.
 
As the Code of Practice of the Press Complaints Commission requires care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, and prompt correction with due prominence of any significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognized,  I respectfully request that the above inaccurate and misleading statements be corrected prominently.
 
Sincerely
Maurice Ostroff

REPLY

At 18:24 22/05/2007, Murray Armstrong replied  in the absence of the Guardian Readers' Editor Siobhain Butterworth:

To: MAURICE Subject: Re: Apartheid South Africa's Nuclear Program
From: reader@guardian.co.uk
Reply-To: reader@guardian.co.uk

Dear Maurice  Ostroff,

This has already been the subject of a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission, which was rejected. The adjudication is here http://www.pcc.org.uk/cases/adjudicated.html?article=NDE2NQ==

Best wishes,
Murray Armstrong
(Siobhain Butterworth is away)

 



 

 

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