Fluoride Action Network

The wrong sort of helping hand

Source: The Post (Pakistan) | November 24th, 2008 | By Munir Ahmed Baloch
Industry type: Nuclear Industry

The nuclear suppliers group (NSG) released a statement outlining its conditions for allowing the transfer of nuclear technology to India for use in IAEA safeguard facilities. According to the statement, the NSG “note(d) steps that India has voluntarily taken” to institute “a national export control system capable of effectively controlling transfers of multilaterally controlled… nuclear-related material, equipment and technology.” It seems that the US Congress fell asleep while considering the final approval of US-India nuclear cooperation. By lifting restrictions on India’s ability to buy nuclear technology and fuel from abroad, America will be helping it out of a uranium squeeze: its useable stock of the enriched stuff (lower enriched for power generation, higher for weapons) have been dwindling fast.

If the NSG goes along, and makes an exception to its rule that nuclear exports can go only to countries with all their nuclear facilities under safeguards, India will no longer have to eke out its nuclear materials. It will be able to accelerate its bomb- building while using foreign uranium for power generation. Russia has already jumped the gun, recently supplying the fuel to two Indian reactors, citing “safety” concerns. That is disingenuous. A reactor running short of fuel can simply be shut down; Russia wanted to get to the front of the queue for future contracts. India has agreed to separate its civilian nuclear reactors from its military ones, with IAEA safeguards on the civilian sort. But when the intent is bomb-building (and India has every intention of expanding its arsenal), technologies and skills imported for running “ civilian” reactors can just as easily be put to military use.

India used just such technologies and materials for its first nuclear explosion in 1974. Its civil and military programmes are closely intertwined-which is why none of its uranium- enrichment or plutonium- reprocessing plants, or its planned plutonium- producing fast- breeder reactors, is on its civilian list. It is even pushing for minimal safeguards on reactors designated as civilian, with inspections only when foreign fuel is present. Aiding India’s nuclear. The damage done by the Bush administration’s nuclear deal with India gets worse and worse. Already weakened by the nuclear antics of Iran and North Korea, the web of treaties and control that seeks to halt the bomb’s spread is starting to unravel. Bush administration’s claim that the nuclear deal with India will be a net gain in the fight against proliferation is pure nonsense.

The controversial deal undermined confidence in the world’s anti-nuclear rules. The NPT, which has helped prevent a number of other capable countries from going nuclear, and encouraged some which tried( Argentina and Brazil) and others which has succeeded( South Africa) to turn back, rests on a promise: In fact USA recognizes that the rise of China upsets the strategic balance in Asia. That’s led Washington to develop a new one with India. The Indian Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) commissioned India’s main enrichment plant, codenamed the Rare Material Project (RMP), around 1990.

In addition to a gas centrifuge, this site, located about 19 km from Mysore, may also contain a uranium hexafluoride production facility. While assessing India’s nuclear procurement practices, ISIS found several incidents where India conducted illicit nuclear trade and leaked sensitive nuclear information. Past and current practices of India had been overlooked for reasons best known to US Congress. First, India Rare Earth (IRE), a sub-entity of India’s department of Atomic energy, procures sensitive materials and technology for a secret plant located in Mysore.

IRE uses popular technology procurement websites and newspapers to solicit interested firms to purchase bid documents. These documents can be purchased for approximately ten dollars and some of them contained detailed drawings and manufacturing instructions for direct-use centrifuges components and other sensitive centrifuges-related items. Interestingly, in 2007, ISIS was easily able to attain component design drawing for the manufacture of sensitive centrifuge components.

The level of details issued by ISIS is sufficient that they would be considered classified in supplier countries and not distributed without careful controls over their use and requirements for their protection. Second, before 2003, India procured from China large quantities of TBT, a dual-use chemical that is used in nuclear programs to separate plutonium. China enacted new-user requirements after a 2002 sale of TBT to North Korea was criticized by the USA. India subsequent attempts to procure TBT from China were unsuccessful, according to an Indian knowledge about India’s procurement of TBT.

India was forced to look elsewhere for a reliable supply of TBT and utilized an array of Indian Trading companies to procure TBT secretly from suppliers in Germany and Russia according to confirmed information. The Nuclear fuel complex (NFC) in Hyderabad, India put forward tenders for buying TBT. Indian trading companies, some of which were liaison offices for European companies, successfully bid on these tenders and ordered the TBT from German and Russian suppliers. Third an accident in early 1997 may permit a crude check on the number of centrifuges operating at the plant in early to mid-1990s.

Depleted uranium, containing 0.3-0.4 percent uranium 235, was shipped in mild steel drums from the plant to a disposal site at the Rakha Mines owned by the Uranium Corporation of India at Jakuguda in Bihar. As reported by “Bangalore Deccan Herald” in March, 14, 1997, shipment of 56 drums had about a dozen corroded drums, and one of these drums gave way and leaked uranium. The maximum amount of enriched uranium and the separate work units required to produce that depleted uranium can be crudely estimated.

Based on the information that the drums were made of mild steel and on the absence of any public mention of highly toxic fluorine, the drums are assumed to have contained uranium oxide. Those drums are also assumed to have a capacity of 55 gallons, a standard-sized drum for depleted uranium not in a chemical form involving fluorine. Using nuclear industry standards, each drum is assumed to contain no more than about 175-350 kilograms of uranium, for a total of about 10-20 tons of uranium in all 56 drums.

“If only the HEU had been produced, and the upper figure of 20 tons is used. Then this amount of depleted uranium would correspond to about 80 KGs of HEU enriched to 90 percent or 375 KGs of HEU enriched to 20 percent. (This calculation assumes a tails assay of 0.35 percent). If three percent enriched uranium had been produced, this amount of depleted uranium would correspond to about three tons of LEU and about 10,000 SWU. Because the plant likely produced mostly LEU, the latter value of 10,000 SWU is used.

If only 10 tons were in those drums, the value would be halved to 40-190 kilogrammes of HEU and about 5,000 SWU. The DAE is currently attempting to expand the number of centrifuge at RMP by 3,000, increasing RMP capacity by at least 15,000 separate work units (SWU) per year, a common measure of the output of a uranium enrichment plant and more than double its current output.

The Indian government has proposed to designate its gas centrifuge enrichment facilities, such as RMP, as military sites under the framework of US-India nuclear cooperation. Thus, India is unlikely to use these facilities to create fuel for Tarapur boiling water reactors, which will be designated as civilian facilities. India is currently importing sufficient amounts of low enriched uranium (LEU) to fuel for the Tarapur reactors.

As a result of its recently acquired ability to import LEU, India can devote the enrichment capacity of RMP to highly enriched uranium (HEU) for military applications. India would most likely use the HEU for fuel in submarines reactors and in thermonuclear weapons. India’s interest in naval reactors for submarines goes back decades. More recently, it has concentrated on operating a naval propulsion prototype reactor near Kalpakkam and launching an indigenous nuclear-powered submarine that will use a miniaturized version of this reactor.

The naval reactor programme, codenamed the Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV), is surrounded secretly. The production of thermonuclear weapon may lead India to conduct additional underground nuclear tests as it seeks to make more deliverable, reliable, and efficient weapons. The Indian government has argued that their deal is purely about India’s energy needs. But the fact is that even on the most optimistic assumptions nuclear power will contribute only about 4 percent of India’s power-generation by 2020.

The writer is a freelance columnist