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[cdn-nucl-l] India's Cirus
Posted in plats nucleonics week, Volume 47, Number 5, February 2, 2006.
Interesting politics surrounding Cirus and future business in peaceful
U.S., Canada not likely to demand India put Cirus under safeguards
The U.S. government will not insist, as part of an ongoing
negotiation with India, that the IAEA apply safeguards
on the Cirus research and plutonium production reactor,
well-placed North American diplomatic sources said this
And Canada will likewise not categorically insist on safeguards
at Cirus as a condition for agreeing to adjust international
proliferation and nuclear trade rules to accommodate
the U.S.-India agreement, these sources said. Late last year,
Canada strongly recommended that IAEA safeguards be
applied to the reactor as part of the U.S.-India deal.
Last July, the U.S. and India announced plans for
expanded nuclear trade in return for certain nonproliferation
steps by India. One of the key steps is a separation of
Indian civilian facilities from military ones and placement of
the civilian ones under IAEA safeguards. New Delhi and
Washington are in negotiations over what facilities will
comprise the list.
Cirus is a 40-MW (thermal) heavy water-moderated and
-cooled reactor fueled with natural uranium, located at the
Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC) at Trombay. It has
produced a large share of India's separated weapons-grade
plutonium inventory including material used in India's first
nuclear test in 1974. Canada says that plutonium was used
in violation of a pledge by India not to use the reactor for
non-peaceful purposes. India denies that the peaceful-use
agreement prohibited use of the plutonium for testing a
nuclear explosive it characterized as "peaceful."
Canada, which supplied India the reactor in 1956, is
more committed than the U.S. to resolving outstanding
issues regarding what it asserts is India's historic violation of
the peaceful-use commitment made by India related to the
reactor's plutonium, according to these sources. However,
they told Nucleonics Week, Canada could in principle
accept absence of IAEA safeguards on Cirus and still agree to
modify international nuclear trade rules to accommodate
India. Canada's acceptance would be conditioned on the
U.S.-Indian agreement resulting in an overall "net gain" for
the nonproliferation regime. Also, Ottawa and New Delhi
would have to successfully negotiate a separate bilateral resolution
of their longstanding differences over the peacefuluse
commitment for Cirus.
Sources suggested that a separate Canadian-Indian resolution
of the historical differences might involve an acknowledgment
by India that it did not adhere to the peaceful-use
commitment in operating the reactor in the past. It may
also involve an affirmation of specific commitments to nonproliferation
that may go beyond those that India would
make under the U.S-India agreement.
Diplomatic sources close to both U.S.-Indian and
Canadian-Indian talks said there was thus far no discussion
of any compromise under which India would agree to put
Cirus under IAEA safeguards but would be free to operate
the newer, larger Dhruva reactors as a military production
reactor. "That's not on the table," one North American official
According to one senior Vienna diplomat, India has cautioned
the U.S. during bilateral talks so far about U.S. insistence
on IAEA safeguards at either Cirus or Dhruva. If that
happened, the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) may
replicate the Dhruva reactor at BARC to make up for plutonium
output that in the future would be safeguarded in perpetuity
at Cirus or Dhruva and thus be "lost" to India's
nuclear weapons material stockpile, he said.
Cirus was described by a Canadian industry official as
"essentially a copy" of the NRX reactor designed by Atomic
Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL). However, Dhruva is a completely
indigenous Indian reactor only 20 years old, and
rated at 100 MW (th), far more powerful than the AECL-supplied
unit. When Nucleonics Week toured Dhruva in 1992,
the reactor appeared to be managed according to world-class
standards for availability, housekeeping, and outage maintenance
(NW, 26 March '92, 8).
Were India to replicate Dhruva upon a decision to safeguard
Cirus, sources said, the result would be a net increase
in India's unsafeguarded plutonium inventory once the new
reactor were finished of perhaps 15 kilograms (about 33
The sources said that Ottawa has informed New Delhi
that it wants IAEA safeguards applied to Cirus, but that India
has not made any commitment to Canada to do so. In bilateral
talks between Ottawa and Washington, the sources said,
the U.S. has likewise made no commitment to Canada that
it will insist on safeguards on Cirus.
Canada has made at least one public statement expressing
support for including Cirus on the civilian facilities list.
At a Dec. 19 forum on Cirus, Kelly Anderson, the first secretary
(political) of the Canadian embassy in Washington,
D.C., reading from a prepared text, said, "The 1956 bilateral
agreement through which Canada provided India with the
Cirus research reactor states that the reactor and any products
resulting from its use would be employed for peaceful
purposes only. The US-India initiative for nuclear cooperation
provides an excellent opportunity to address this issue."
Anderson continued, "Canada believes that the disposition
of the Cirus reactor is an important issue that should be
addressed in relation to the separation of India's nuclear fuel
cycle into civilian and military components." She added,
"We have brought our views regarding the disposition of the
Cirus reactor to the attention of the Governments of India
and the U.S." She said, "In doing so, we have encouraged
India and the U.S. to place the Cirus reactor on the civilian
side of the fuel cycle and under IAEA safeguards. This would
respect the peaceful uses assurance of our original agreement."
The Cirus issue has figured prominently in discussions of
the India deal in the U.S., in part because nonproliferation
advocates have pressed the issue in congressional testimony
India shut down Cirus for a major rebuilding program
during the late 1990s, and DAE now claims that, following
restart in 2004, the unit is "virtually a new reactor," a DAE
No added conditions
The U.S. Department of State said last month that the
U.S. will not insist that India agree to cut off fissile material
production. The department's comment was in response to
questions submitted by Richard G. Lugar, chairman of the
U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, following a Nov. 2
hearing about the ongoing U.S.-Indian negotiations.
The State Department said that "additional conditions,
such as implementing a moratorium on fissile material production
... would likely be (a) deal-breaker." Diplomatic
sources said that is now interpreted by Ottawa to mean that
the U.S. will not insist that either Cirus or Dhruva be put
under IAEA safeguards.
Officials at Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs &
International Trade, in their initial reaction to the July 18
U.S.-Indian announcement they would negotiate a nuclear
trade agreement, had told counterparts at the U.S. State
Department that the U.S.-India deal was flawed because it
failed to include a fissile material production requirement
for India (NW, 29 Sept. '05, 4).
Answers from the State Department to Lugar this month
indicated that the U.S. discounted the Canadian objections
because India would never agree to such a moratorium as a
condition for bilateral cooperation.
Diplomatic sources said that Canada has told the U.S.
that the Cirus issue is far more important to Ottawa than it
is to Washington. "While the U.S. supplied heavy water to
India" that was used at Cirus at the time it produced plutonium,
one North American official said, "Canada supplied
the reactor" that was used under a bilateral Canadian-Indian
peaceful use commitment to produce plutonium for India's
nuclear explosive test in 1974.
The U.S. initially denied a connection to the 1974 test,
but in 1976, then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger
acknowledged in a letter to then-Sen. Abraham Ribicoff (DConn.)
that there was "a high probability" that some U.S.
heavy water was in the reactor when the plutonium for the
test was produced.
In answering Lugar's questions, the State Department
said that it was "not possible" to determine whether India's
actions in 1974 were inconsistent with a U.S.-Indian peaceful
use pledge for the heavy water. It said that was "due to
both the factual uncertainty as whether U.S.-supplied heavy
water contributed to the production of the plutonium used
for the device and the lack of mutual understanding of the
scope of the 1956 contract language" pertaining to the U.S.
heavy water in India.
In December a U.S. official described the Cirus question
as a "vexed" one that had "receded into the past."
The State Department response to Lugar's questions, one
source said, is "consistent" with the Canadian view thus far
that "for the U.S., safeguards on the Cirus reactor will not be
essential" to the U.S.-Indian deal, and that for the U.S.,
resolving historical issues on peaceful-use commitments is
less of a priority than for Canada. Unlike for the U.S. as
expressed in the State Department's answers last month, for
Canada there is "no ambiguity" about whether India violated
its peaceful use agreement for the reactor, the source said.
The optimum solution for Canada would be for the U.S.-
India deal to require IAEA safeguards on Cirus. But if that is
not the result, diplomatic sources said, Canada would then
make an overall assessment of the U.S.-India deal and determine
whether the net effect were positive or negative. If the
outcome were deemed positive for global nonproliferation,
Canada would agree to cooperate with members of the
Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in looking for a way to
accommodate U.S.-Indian trade. Some sources said Canada
would also consider broader cooperation between Canadian
industry and Indian firms. Thus far, Canada has had a very
strict interpretation of NSG rules, with very few exceptions
preventing all Canadian exports of NSG Part II dual-use
commodities, in addition to Part I trigger list nuclear items.
That Canada took the unusual step of publicly urging the
U.S. to press India to safeguard Cirus, Vienna sources said,
may mean that Canada will try to exact concessions from
the U.S. in exchange for its cooperation if Cirus is not safeguarded.-
Mark Hibbs, Bonn; Daniel Horner, Washington