Canada Must Go Slow on Nuclear Deal with India

Tasneem Jamal Nuclear Weapons

Ernie Regehr

Published by the Waterloo Region Record

It didn’t take Canada long to try to cash in on its support for the Nuclear Suppliers Group decision last Fall to open the door to civilian nuclear trade with India after a 35 year ban. Others have been even quicker off the mark. India has already signed new nuclear co-operation agreements with the US, France and Russia, with Kazakhstan soon to follow.

But now Trade Minister Stockwell Day has gone to India, accompanied by senior executives from Canada’s nuclear technology leader, AECL Ltd., Saskatchewan’s uranium producing Cameco Corp., and the nuclear engineering firm SNC-Lavalin. The visit makes good on an earlier remark by a senior foreign affairs official that Canada’s “top priority is to finalize nuclear and business agreements with India.”

A preliminary agreement on next-generation reactors has already been signed, with a formal co-operation framework agreement to follow. India needs uranium. Its nuclear power plants currently run at only 40 to 60 per cent capacity because of a shortage of uranium, and that shortage is due to both the ban and to India’s ongoing diversion of portions of its modest domestically-sourced uranium to bomb-making.

Indeed, access to foreign uranium for its current and future civilian power plants will free up more of its domestic uranium for its weapons program.

While the formal lifting of the suppliers group ban came without conditions, at least four specific informal constraints on nuclear trade with India emerged from the decision-making process, constraints that should become formal conditions.

The first is the very basic expectation that India will not test another nuclear device, and that if it does all co-operation will cease.

In a political pledge linked to the suppliers group action, India said it remained committed to “a voluntary, unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing,” but it refused all efforts to make a permanent end to testing part of the deal. And given India’s clear commitment to continued nuclear warhead production, internal Indian demands for more testing could at some point become irresistible. U.S. legislation requires any American nuclear co-operation to be halted in the event of another Indian test. Other suppliers were also adamant on the point, and Canada should certainly write into any nuclear co-operation agreement that a test would end it.

Indeed, we should go further and join other states in mounting renewed pressure on India to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. It is India’s refusal to do so that is one of the central obstacles to the treaty’s entry into force, a treaty that is repeatedly declared by the international community as one of the most urgently required measures to prevent further vertical and horizontal nuclear proliferation.

Second, suppliers are rightly wary of supplying India with uranium at levels that would permit stockpiling. If India is able to build up a large reserve of imported fuel for its civilian reactors it would in effect build up immunity to any sanctions that would almost certainly follow another weapons test.

A third caution raised by suppliers is that nuclear co-operation not include the supply of nuclear reprocessing or uranium enrichment technology — technologies that can be used to produce fuel for civilian reactors and nuclear weapons alike.

Finally, it must be remembered that the new willingness to engage in civilian nuclear cooperation with India was ostensibly designed to win non-proliferation gains. India was to be brought into the non-proliferation club. As it turned out, India managed to avoid any new and binding commitments, but it did make a number of important and welcome political commitments.

Besides agreeing to continue its testing moratorium and to separating civilian and military nuclear facilities and programs, placing the former under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards, India promised, among other things, to adopt an additional protocol, allowing more intrusive inspections of civilian nuclear facilities, to support negotiations toward a Fissile Material Cut Off Treaty, and to support the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons and the negotiation of a convention toward that end.

The question now is, what will Canada and the international community do to monitor the extent to which India actually makes good on its solemn promises.

© 2009 Metroland Media Group Ltd.

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