Uranium Yellowcake Trafficking Incidents in Africa

Proliferation threat or non-proliferation opportunity?
  • Citation: Mutua, John-Mark. “Uranium Yellowcake Trafficking Incidents in Africa.” African Security Review 24, no. 2 (2015): 162–89.
    • Topics:
    • Conflict and Security
    • Keywords:
    • Africa
    • nuclear material
    • smuggling trends
    • uranium yellowcake
    • non-state actors
    • clandestine weapons development
    • nuclear terrorism

The perpetuation of an otherwise astute fissile material safeguards model by the current non-proliferation regime raises a number of concerns, not least the efficacy of the approach in reducing clandestine weapon developments and the nuclear terrorism threat. Mindful of potential shifts in illicit nuclear material and weapon acquisition, following an excessive focus on fissile material safeguards and the proliferation of nuclear weapon technology, this article uses proliferation trend and scenario analysis in a bid to identify potential proliferation threats and non-proliferation opportunities. The results of the article’s assessment of reported incidents (1992–2013) involving theft, unauthorised possession, and attempts to smuggle or sell highly enriched uranium (HEU), plutonium, low-enriched uranium (LEU), natural uranium and uranium yellowcake reveal a decline in occurrences involving fissile material but an increase in uranium yellowcake incidents, particularly in Africa. Presumptions that yellowcake may have provided the newest threat to clandestine weapon developments and nuclear terrorism wane amid concerns over possible biases in reporting, scepticism over an organised and demand-driven nuclear black market, and the difficulties of non-state actors’ development of crude nuclear weapons off the tedious yellowcake conversion-enrichment-fabrication pathway. To secure Africa’s uranium yellowcake from potential proliferators, the article proposes concerted domestic, regional and multilateral non-proliferation efforts.

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