South Africa is key to passing on knowledge in nuclear technology to the rest of Africa, International Atomic Energy Agency deputy director-general Kwaku Aning said on Monday, noting that the country would be pivotal in enabling African countries to develop nuclear power programmes.

South Africa is home to the only nuclear power plant in Africa. Although other countries such as Algeria, Egypt and Libya have research reactors, they are not as technologically advanced as South Africa.

However, several African countries, including Nigeria, have shown interest in nuclear power stations.

Mr Aning was speaking after the signing of a R15m agreement between South Africa and the agency to promote human capital development and knowledge-sharing in technology on the continent.

"South Africa is key in our efforts to assist other African countries (in nuclear technology). We have had many people from Africa being trained by South Africans. When we need experts to visit facilities (in other African countries) … we send (South Africans) there," he said.

Science and Technology director-general Phil Mjwara said the planned co-operation would focus on "agriculture and livestock production, human health, water resource development, environmental management and integrated pollution control, energy, human capital for nuclear science and technology, as well as capacity building".

The Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa’s Pelindaba reactor is one of the world’s leading producers of medical isotopes, while the National Research Foundation’s iThembaLABS is involved in cancer treatment and sample testing. In addition, the Agriculture Research Council, through its Onderstepoort facility, works on pest sterilisation using nuclear technologies.

The agreement co-ordinates the "work we want to do with the rest of the continent", Dr Mjwara said. "How can we use our facilities to provide the training, knowhow and use of nuclearrelated technology for peaceful use in the broad areas?"

Dr Mjwara said such facilities were expensive to set up and it was important to share their output with neighbours.

But he noted that the human capital development of these facilities was not just for use by university students — researchers would also be invited to use the facilities.

When asked about African countries’ ambitions to develop nuclear power plants, Mr Aning said: "Nuclear power, that’s a different story. It takes a lot of development and knowledge to build a nuclear power plant.

"Although some countries wish to do that, not many are at that level (of knowhow). They need work, and this is a place where South Africa can assist."