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Nuclear Safeguards Education Portal

Systemic Breakdown in Nuclear Security Culture: The Attack on Pelindaba

We will now look at a case study that demonstrates what can happen when States, organizations, managers, and individuals are not taking their roles and responsibilities seriously with regard to nuclear security culture.

In 2007, four armed men breached a perimeter chain link fence surrounding a nuclear explosives storage site at Pelindaba, South Africa.  They penetrated that perimeter fence despite the presence of an array of high voltage wires in the fence.  They then turned off the electricity and some of the alarms and attacked the emergency response center. A second group of adversaries were able to breach another section of the fence at about the same time.

The groups were stopped by an off-duty firefighter named Frans Antonie Gerber.  Gerber happened to be on site to accompany his girlfriend, Ria Meiring, who was the only employee working in the emergency response center that night.  She was filling in at the last moment for another employee who was supposed to be on call that night.  That individual was not able to work because he was intoxicated.  He was also a paraplegic who used a wheelchair.  Meiring felt unsafe alone in the emergency center at night, so she brought Gerber and her dog along with her.  The adversaries attacked the emergency response center, and shot Gerber in the chest when he called for help.  The two groups were doubtless in communication with each other, because both groups cleared off of the site once they realized that the phone call had tipped off security personnel.  

There was also evidence of insider collusion.The attackers had a detailed knowledge of the facility's security system and were able to efficiently disable alarms and circumvent sophisticated security systems.  

(Source: The Center for Public Integrity)

The following is a report from the CBS series "60 Minutes," where they describe the attack in detail and speak to some of the people involved.

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