Tebogo Seokolo, centre, is the new chair of the IAEA. Picture: Dean Calma

Johannesburg - For the first time since 1959, a South African will chair the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Tebogo Seokolo was appointed on Monday and will serve for a year on the strategic multilateral body, which has the responsibility to ensure the safe use of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. The position provides South Africa with an opportunity to support UN member states that are pursuing nuclear energy in order to generate electricity.

Minister for International Relations and Co-operation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane welcomed the appointment.

“This election is an affirmation of South Africa’s leadership role on the world-stage in general, and specifically on matters of nuclear disarmament, nuclear non-proliferation and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy,” she said.

South Africa is a founding member of the IAEA, and attaches great importance to the mandate of the agency.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of South Africa’s accession to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the signing and entry into force of our Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA. It also marks the 20th anniversary of the Treaty of Pelindaba, which created an African Nuclear Weapon Free Zone, as a means towards the establishment of a nuclear-weapons-free world.

In recent years, the IAEA has played a prominent role in assisting its members to implement their regional and national development plans.

For example, in Africa the IAEA is involved in assisting affected countries to use nuclear techniques to eradicate mosquitoes and tsetse flies in order to control their associated diseases, like malaria.

During the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the IAEA, in partnership with South Africa, among others, used nuclear techniques for the early detection and treatment of the disease. The IAEA also uses nuclear techniques to detect and treat animal diseases that impact on human health.

South Africa is highly regarded by IAEA member states due to the development of its peaceful nuclear programme. Through the power plant in Koeberg, the country generates 5 percent of its total electricity supply from nuclear energy.

South Africa is the second largest producer of medical isotopes used in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

Through its research reactor, SAFARI-1, which has for more than 50 years operated safely, securely and reliably, South Africa exports this life-saving treatment to more than 60 countries.

The board provides strategic oversight over the activities of the secretariat led by the director-general. It also approves the programme and budget of the organisation and monitors its implementation.

Since the term of office of the current director-general comes to an end, Seokolo will facilitate the processes for the new appointment.

The Star