The Nukes of Hazard

Canada’s CANDU Snafu, Bush’s Nuke-You-Lure, and South Asian Nuclear Proliferation

If India and Pakistan ever nuke it out, or if ever those CANDUs should snafu, Canada will have to face up to its own role as a nuclear proliferator.

By Ingmar Lee


May 2006

IN A MAY 20, 1974 INTERVIEW, THE LATE CBC reporter Barbara Frum asked India’s UN Ambassador Samar Sen whether India violated its agreements with Canada in developing and detonating an atomic bomb. Ambassador Sen’s response was that India had not developed an atom bomb. “What did it develop, then?” Frum asked. Sen responded: “India just exploded an atomic device, nothing to do with a bomb. It is just one of the processes which is necessary for using atomic energy. How did you get the idea for an atom bomb?”

Thirty years later, India has never used its—-according to Ambassador Sen—-explosive but un-bomb-like nuclear device. But India and Pakistan have fought three declared wars and many undeclared wars of proxy or low intensity conflicts, and the risk of nuclear escalation has always been present. On May 11 and 13, 1998, for instance, India carried out five nuclear tests at Pokhran. Two weeks later, on May 28 and 29, 1998, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced that Pakistan had conducted five nuclear tests of its own at its base in Baluchistan and had “settled the score with India.”

India is a rogue state. It has defied all global non-proliferation efforts, and it is in this context that Pakistan developed its own nuclear weapons program. George W. Bush is now recklessly seeking to exempt India from all protocols of the Non-Proliferation Treaty that preclude them from receiving nuclear fuels and technology from treaty signatories. And with Pakistan left out of the equation and feeling insulted, the chances of resolving this dreadful hair-trigger doomsday scenario have diminished markedly. And in this, the world’s most terrifying case of nuclear brinkmanship, it is sobering to remember that both India and Pakistan used Canadian technology to achieve their nuclear capabilities.

In 1956, Canada provided India with a forty-megawatt research reactor near Mumbai. The United States supplied the heavy water necessary to control nuclear fission. Three years later, Canada sold a 125-megawatt nuclear reactor to Pakistan, and then in 1964, sold them a Canada Deuterium Uranium (CANDU) reactor. In 1971, Canada constructed a 137-megawatt CANDU heavy-water nuclear reactor at Karachi, Pakistan. Canada also included heavy water and a heavy water production facility as part of the deal.

“Both India and Pakistan used Canadian technology to achieve their nuclear capabilities.”

Three years later, in 1974, India exploded its first nuclear device, dubbed the “Smiling Buddha,” at Pokhran, Rajasthan, using plutonium from the CIRUS reactor. Canada’s reactors, it turns out, are ideal for producing weapons-grade plutonium, and Canada had not bothered to ask India to comply with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, nor to account for the amount of plutonium the CIRUS produced. India claims that its agreement with Canada did not prohibit the use of CIRUS-produced plutonium for “peaceful” nuclear explosions, which is how it described its Smiling Buddha blast. Predictably, however, as soon as Pakistan saw that India had the bomb, it put its own shiny new CANDU reactor to work developing its own nuclear weapons. As the record shows, Canada is a major proliferator of nuclear technology, and is complicit in the nuclear arming of both Pakistan and India.

With its culpability exposed for all the world to see after India’s 1974 blast, Canada quietly withdrew from the India CANDU project, leaving Indian scientists to handle, maintain, repair and operate India�s nuclear reactors. Canada abruptly stopped supplying uranium to Pakistan in 1976 and then withdrew from the Pakistan project as well. If India and Pakistan ever nuke it out, or if ever those CANDUs should snafu, Canada will have to face up to its own culpability.

Atomic Energy of Canada

SINCE ITS 1952 INCEPTION, CANADA’S nuclear program has been run by Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, “a fully integrated nuclear technology and services company providing services to nuclear utilities worldwide.” According to its website, Atomic Energy of Canada’s mandate is “to create customer and shareholder value by managing the Canadian nuclear platform responsibly and cost—-effectively, leveraging the technology base to deliver nuclear products and services to market, and paying dividends from profitable growth.”

In January of this year, however, the environmental think-tank and advocacy group Energy Probe revealed that Atomic Energy of Canada has, over the years, relied substantially on federal government subsidies. Tom Adams, the Executive Director of Energy Probe, calculates that $74.9 billion of Canada’s national debt—-fully twelve percent of the total—-is directly attributable to publicly funded subsidies provided to Atomic Energy of Canada.

Virtually all of India’s nuclear scientists and dozens of their Pakistani counterparts, including the notorious nuclear proliferator Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, were trained and hosted by Atomic Energy of Canada. In 1996, Y. S. R. Prasad, chairman and managing director of India’s Nuclear Power Corporation, visited two nuclear reactors in Ontario. Over the years, Canadian scientists have also visited Indian reactors. The official line is that none of the information shared helped India develop its bombs. “Our scientists and your scientists are sensible fellows,” said Prasad, while visiting the Canadian reactors. “We are human beings. We are not politicians. We want what is good for humanity.”

Bush Steps In

GEORGE “NUKE-YOU-LURE” BUSH TRAVELED to India in March of this year to finalize the July 18, 2005, “landmark” nuclear agreement he had begun negotiating with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. India is a non-signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and has used its civilian power plants to build nuclear weapons. According to the US Atomic Energy Act, because India has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty Bush cannot legally provide India with nuclear material. But their agreement intends to single out India as an exception to the rule.

Part of the deal is contingent on the separation of India�s deeply intertwined military and civilian nuclear programs. India will now identify several “civilian” nuclear installations and open them up for international inspection, but its military nuclear projects will remain secret and will continue to produce nuclear weaponry, in direct violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

To ratify the deal, Bush will have to persuade the US Congress to change the US Atomic Energy Act, which prohibits trade in nuclear technologies with non-members of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. He will then have to persuade the Nuclear Suppliers Group to agree to the same exemption. Bush’s Orwellian PR spinmeisters are now working at full tilt to swing the deal.

But it’s not only the White House spin doctors who are pushing this agenda. Two weeks after the Bush visit, India cut another deal with Russia to supply fuel to its Tarapur nuclear facilities. No pact was necessary for this because there’s a gaping loophole in the Nuclear Suppliers Group guidelines allowing for the transfer of uranium fuel for “safety reasons.” The pretext, apparently, is that should Tarapur run out of fuel, there would be “safety” consequences for energy consumers. So while Bush is busy promoting exemptions for India so he can sell them American nuclear fuel and technology, India and Russia have already circumvented Non-Proliferation Treaty restrictions on their own.

Further complications have arisen from the recent diplomatic blunders issuing from the American Ambassador to India, David Mulford. In December 2005, Mulford caused an uproar when he threatened that Washington would pull out of the historic nuclear deal if India did not vote against Iran at the subsequent meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency. India’s Ministry of External Affairs summoned Mulford to his office where Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran asked him to clarify his remarks. Expressing sincere regrets, Ambassador Mulford said his comments “had been taken out of context.”

Mulford’s threat sparked off a huge diplomatic row, with former Indian prime minister and BJP opposition leader Atal Behari Vajpayee describing the remark as outrageous and undiplomatic. In a statement, Vajpayee said: “It violates all diplomatic norms. Ambassadors are not required to make personal remarks denigrating their host country.” Subsequently, Mulford set off another firestorm by his protest letter to West Bengal Chief Minister M. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee for his characterization of George W. Bush as a leader of the “most organized pack of killers” on the planet.

In another development, on April 7 2006, opposition leader Vajpayee accused Manmohan Singh of accepting “a legally binding agreement never to test nuclear weapons.” Vajpayee insists that the deal be redrawn to ensure that India will retain the right to conduct nuclear tests. The Indian government has responded by asserting that “India is not legally foreswearing its right to nuclear testing.” So much for Bush’s claims that this deal will promote peace in the region.

Why would India put all its eggs in the nuclear basket?

CURRENTLY, THE VAST BULK OF INDIA’S power, about sixty-eight percent, is produced by burning coal, with petroleum and natural gas kicking in another twenty-five percent. India’s civilian nukes provide less than three percent of its total power consumption. The plan is to boost production of nuclear power to 20,000 megawatts by 2020 to raise the nuclear contribution to twelve percent. But India, Iran and Pakistan have been working to develop a $4-billion, 2600-km natural gas pipeline from Iran’s South Pars gas field to India, via the Pakistani state of Balochistan.

This “Peace Pipeline,” as it has been dubbed, could deliver far more than 20,000 megawatts into India’s power grid, and more importantly, would deliver an enormous stabilizing influence to the troubled region. US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has said on more than one occasion that the Bush administration is promoting civil nuclear cooperation with India to discourage the Indian government from looking to Iran as a source of energy.

The operation of the pipeline would require respectful relations and mutually beneficial compromises, which are sorely needed to counter the belligerent nuclear brinkmanship that continues between Pakistan and India. But any pipeline deal between India, Pakistan and Iran would hinder Bush’s efforts to isolate Iran and promote “regime change.”

“The Bush administration is promoting civil nuclear cooperation with India to discourage the Indian government from looking to Iran as a source of energy.”

In a glaring example of just how much further the Bush/India nuclear deal will undermine the treaty, the neocon Australian Prime Minister, Bush-lackey, and global uranium peddler John Howard whisked into India immediately on Bush’s coat-tails, attempting to subvert Australia’s strict refusal to supply uranium to non-signatories of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Pakistan is now asking for the same deal that India got, while Bush hypocritically continues to push the case against Iran’s nuclear program—-which is, by the way, fully compliant with Non-Proliferation Treaty requirements.

The Ghost at the Banquet

INDIA’S UNION CARBIDE PESTICIDE PLANT catastrophe at Bhopal is the ghost at the banquet in any discussion of India’s nuclear future. Gross negligence and mismanagement by Union Carbide caused the 1984 methyl isocyanate gas-miasma disaster, which killed tens of thousands of people at Bhopal. And although the Union Carbide corporation allowed its plant to be managed to a much lesser safety standard than it would have tolerated for any American-based factory, its Indian subsidiary and its consortium of Indian investors must share the responsibility for allowing the plant to be run in such a decrepit and haphazard condition. It’s not a legacy that inspires confidence in how India handles its growing stockpile of nuclear waste.

During the December 2004 tsunami, the ensuing wave washed over the beach and into the salt-water-cooled Kalpakkam reactor site, filling the eighteen-metre-deep pit, which had been excavated for the new breeder reactor being built there. Sixty Kalpakkam employees died in the disaster. All of Kalpakkam’s nuclear waste is stored on-site, about a kilometre back from the beach. Further down the coast, the wave washed inland for more than a kilometre, but apparently the Kalpakkam waste dump was spared.

Meticulous maintenance is not one of India’s strong points. To this date, although the scofflaw Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson may have washed his hands of the disaster, India has still done nothing to clean up the toxic mess, which still contaminates the area.

Should one of India’s CANDU reactors ever go Chernobyl, Canada would come under serious scrutiny. Although no Canadian has had a say in how those CANDUs are being run or maintained since Canada withdrew from India’s nuclear program, India will certainly blame Canada for any CANDU catastrophe, and just like Union Carbide, they will be culpable.

Ingmar Lee writes from Pondicherry, India, slightly downwind from the Kalpakkam Nuclear Power Plant.

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