May 31, 2002
For Canada, reactor exports also meant entrée into the rarefied nuclear club and international circuits of power. “In the times it was done, you have to try to understand the context,” says Reid Morden, the former AECL president. “[India] was a new Commonwealth nation moving out of colonization. If the Indians did a deal with you, there was a tremendous amount of respect for what they had done. As well, we were very anxious to sell CANDU technology.”
Ensuring more CANDU sales meant not giving countries a hard time over bothersome issues like safeguards against plutonium diversion, says David Martin, who is a nuclear policy consultant at the Sierra Club of Canada. “That was the leverage the Indians had. ‘Don’t give us a hard time; if you want to sell us reactors, keep your mouth shut.’ That was the game they were playing. . . . The government and the AECL were aware they were dancing with the devil by giving India nuclear technology. They understood the risks and were willing to take them.”
The government’s logic makes Gordon Edwards, the president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, groan in disbelief. “To simply go along with that argument is insane. On any rational basis, these nuclear weapons are the greatest threat to the survival of the human race there is. You’re saying the survival of the human race takes second place to Canada’s political prestige.”
But there is a broader question at stake here, says Edwards. The fact of the matter is India and Pakistan, with at most 100 bombs between them, are atomic small fry compared with the big nuclear powers with their arsenals of thousands of warheads. The very same 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty that India and Pakistan are often criticized for not signing includes a section which the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France agree to end the nuclear arms race and pursue “complete disarmament.” It is a commitment that the nuclear powers have disregarded for years, despite the Cold War thaw. The double standard has not been lost on India, Pakistan and the so-called nuclear “have-not” countries of the developing world and has bred growing scorn for high-minded remonstrations about proliferation.
“It’s absolute hypocrisy,” says Adi Gopalakrishnan. “Until the fellow who has 10,000 bombs is ready to do that, the guy with 50 bombs won’t be willing to, either.”***
Canada’s nuclear family
What did Canada learn from its experiences in India and Pakistan? Not much, say experts. The Canadian government doggedly continues to flog reactors around the world, often to despotic and corrupt regimes believed to have clandestine bomb programs.
Sales have been lubricated with billions of dollars of financing from government accounts and millions in “agent fees” – bribes, according to some nuclear experts. prime Minister Jean Chrétien has been one of the biggest export boosters in Canadian nuclear history. Some of the sales:
• Nicolae Ceaucescu’s Romania received $US600 million in Canadian government loans in the early 1980s to buy a 633-megawatt CANDU. In 1992, after the dictator’s downfall, the new government reported it had discovered that plutonium had been separated out of spent fuel – a strong indication of the existence of a weapons program.
• Argentina was rocked by a bloody military coup during construction of its CANDU, purchased in 1973 with $125 million in Canadian government financing. Construction continued even as the military junta massacred thousands of political opponents, invaded the Falkland Islands and embarked on a now abandoned nuclear weapons program.
• China bought two powerful CANDUs in 1996, financed with $2 billion in Canadian government loans. During negotiations, China repeatedly conducted nuclear tests in defiance of an international moratorium. China has also sold nuclear weapons and missile technology to other countries such as Pakistan.
• In 1975, South Korea, then a military dictatorship, bought a 600-megawatt CANDU. While the sale was being finalized, the U.S. government was discovering and blocking South Korea’s plans to build atomic weapons.
• Indonesia’s former military dictator General Suharto met with Chrétien twice to discuss reactor sales, even as his troops brutally suppressed democracy demonstrations.***