Jeffrey LewisCIRUS

Of the many things I wanted to do on Monday (and didn’t), one was to pop over to the Center for Nonproliferation Studies’ new digs on 19th St. for The CIRUS Reactor and The U.S.-India Nuclear Agreement: Will India Declare a “Peaceful Uses Only” Reactor To Be a Civilian or a Military Facility? starring Sandy Spector, David Albright, and Paul Leventhal.

So, what’s the big, hairy deal about the CIRUS Reactor?

“At the heart of the nuclear components of the U.S.-Indian agreement,” David Albright testified before Congress, “is an Indian commitment to separate its civil and military nuclear programs.”

The big debates about the wisdom of the US-India deal on civil nuclear cooperation are being played out over the technical question of which facilities will be designated as civilian and placed under safeguards. The Times of India reports that India has prepared a list of facilities. David Albright and Susan Basu released their proposal for a tentative list of facilities (reaction to Albright’s list).

Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran is in town to discuss the Indian plan with Undersecretary Burns on Thursday. Saran is giving a talk this morning at the Carnegie Endowment.

No facility is more likely to cause more heartburn than the CIRUS nuclear reactor near Mumbai (pictured above, on the right). Canada agreed to supply CIRUS (which stands for Canada-India-Reactor-United States) to India in 1956. Although the agreement predated IAEA safeguards, Canada secured assurances from India “that the reactor would be used only for peaceful uses.” (The US part was supplying heavy water for the reactor, which may also create some legal entanglements.)

Despite that pledge, some the CIRUS reactor was India’s main facility producing plutonium for its nuclear weapons program until the 1980s until the larger Dhruva reactor became operational (on the left). Sandy Spector estimated that 1/4 to 1/3 of India’s military plutonium stockpile was produced in the CIRUS reactor—although such stockpile estimates are tricky.

The CBC has some cool footage (no audio) of Nehru touring the Apsara Reactor in 1956, although they’ve misidentified the facility as CIRUS.

On which list will CIRUS end up? The Times of India claims the fate of this reactor “remains a question.” Indian officials won’t say on which list CIRUS (or any other facility) will find itself, but . R. Raharaman, Professor of Theoretical Physics at Jawaharlal Nehru University thinks the Indian defense establishment will place both CIRUS and Dhruva on the military list.

That would, of course, be pretty hard to swallow in light to the “peaceful use” pledge. Sandy Spector testified:

If the CIRUS reactor is treated as a military reactor that is India thumbing its nose at Canada and at the international community, taking what was previously—what was given as a peaceful reactor and then telling the world no, it’s military, and there’s simply no justification for that.

But this debate isn’t really about India “thumbing its nose”—India breached its commitment years ago—so much as it is the question of India’s plutonium stockpile.

India’s nuclear weapons are made from plutonium produced at CIRUS and Dhruva, so putting those facilities under safeguards would cap India’s production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. (Albright has suggested leaving Dhruva on the military list.)

An international treaty banning the production of fissile material is a long-term goal, one of the key elements defining good faith on the part of the nuclear powers to Article VI obligation to pursue nuclear disarmament.

This brings up the question of India’s participation in a ban on the production of fissile material. Bob Einhorn and David Albright both testified that one improvement in the deal they would like to see would be Indian accession to an agreement—perhaps multilateral—prohibiting the production of fissile material. India has already agreed to such a prohibition in principle, as has most of the rest of the world. The United States, however, has blocked negotiations on such a treaty in the Conference on Disarmament.

The Indian Department of Atomic Energy published a short history of India’s nuclear program.

Comments

  1. Nitin (History)

    Jeffrey,

    You should take a look at this too.
    http://in.rediff.com/news/2005/dec/26inter.htm

  2. Anonymous

    The CIRUS issue is dead from the beginning, as you correctly note. India already did thumb its nose at the world with the 1974 test, leading Canada to withdraw all assistance to India’s nuclear program shortly afterwards. Interlocutors on both the US and Indian sides have stated repeatedly that the agreement does not intend in any way to cap India’s strategic weapons programs.

    India does not deserve criticism for this: Non-proliferation experts like Spector and Albright arguably should focus on the administration’s acceptance of India’s demand that any cooperation agreement could not harm in any way India’s strategic weapons programs.

  3. Akash

    Jeffrey,

    Canada & the US thumbed their noses at India by withdrawing from their contractual obligation to supply fuel to Cirus, if my memory serves me right. As far as India was concerned, it was also equally justified in then withdrawing from its contract wrt Cirus.

    Not to be snarky, but the US non proliferation community is more than a tad hypocritical when it comes to India and then some. China can proliferate missile designs to all and sundry and nuke designs to Pak. Pak can then sally forth and proliferate WMD tech to Iran, Libya, NK et al. All this gets a slap on the wrist and a few nasty letters from the powers that be. China escapes without a mention. But somehow, for India to use one reactor for its legitimate security needs (and what a neighbourhood India has) makes it the new evil incarnate.

    Pardon me, as an Indian, if I support my Govt and laugh at the charade enacted by the US NP community for who knows what reason.

  4. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    Akash:

    Perhaps you are a new reader and not familiar with the ground rules I try to enforce here.

    First, if you make factual statements, you have a responsibility to ensure their accuracy. It is false to say that “China escapes without a mention” for its proliferation-related activities. The recent sanctions applied to two Indian chemical firms (apparently unjustly) were accompanied by sanctions on six Chinese firms. The Bush Administration has sanctioned more more firms from China than from any other country. You might wish for more Chinese or less Indian firms on the sanctions list, but it is false to say that no Chinese firms have been sanctioned.

    Second, you do yourself a disservice by engaging in cheap hyperbole to describe concerns that India violated its peaceful use pledge on CIRUS as making India “the new evil incarnate.” No one I know in the nonproliferation community thinks that. Opponents of the deal, like George Perkovich, have proposed alternative plans to ensure India access to fuel for its civilian reactors — something he certainly would not propose were he to believe India is “evil.”

    Finally, you do a disservice to your interlocutors by describing their opposition to the India agreement as having arisen ” for who knows what reason.” If you don’t understand the debate underway, perhaps you should read more before commenting.

    The debate is a straightforward but difficult one: How does the United States accommodate the legitimate right of the world’s largest democracy to continue its economic development without undermining the nonproliferation regime we regard as an important element of global security?

    That is a difficult choice that you elide with casual remarks that impugn the motives of people who might disagree with you.

  5. Akash

    Let me address your points one by one:

    “First, if you make factual statements, you have a responsibility to ensure their accuracy. It is false to say that “China escapes without a mention” for its proliferation-related activities. The recent sanctions applied to two Indian chemical firms (apparently unjustly) were accompanied by sanctions on six Chinese firms. The Bush Administration has sanctioned more more firms from China than from any other country. You might wish for more Chinese or less Indian firms on the sanctions list, but it is false to say that no Chinese firms have been sanctioned.”

    This is semantic quibbling at best based upon taking my comments literally as opposed to the context in which they were intended. A few sanctions against six Chinese firms? Does that include the obvious support to Pak for its weaponisation program? There are many articles out there- quite a few by serious authors who note that it was a Govt to Govt transaction, not merely some private firms out to make a quick buck.
    Lets face it. China hasnt been punished/ sanctioned in any serious way possible which makes it reconsider its activities, nor has Pak for KRL’s activities – Team America’s “nasty letter from the UN” comes to mind. And the world moves on.

    “Second, you do yourself a disservice by engaging in cheap hyperbole to describe concerns that India violated its peaceful use pledge on CIRUS as making India “the new evil incarnate.” No one I know in the nonproliferation community thinks that. Opponents of the deal, like George Perkovich, have proposed alternative plans to ensure India access to fuel for its civilian reactors—something he certainly would not propose were he to believe India is “evil.””

    Before taking my comments literally and engaging in some testy hyperbole yourself- well this is your blog after all, shouldnt it be clear what I meant? The farcical process of going after a country which has been above board in matters relating to national security and which has NOT disseminated nuclear technology to others BUT is constantly made out to have violated some statute or the other, whenever the topic of nuclear proliferation is considered. I note that you skipped addressing the Indian POV regarding Cirus as well- why should India hold fast to some agreement when the other signers didnt? Or is India to be some sort of model state which ignores all aspects of national security even whilst being neighbours to a state that constantly uses terror as a means of policy, plus has been brandishing its nuclear ability at every instance? Or what consideration does one give a totaitarian state which undertakes proliferation activities despite stated agreements to the contrary?
    If the NPA lobby is indeed so insistent upon consistency- then hold the above countries to the same standard, not have AQ Khan sit at home, thanks to being a “national hero” etc. I am afraid no serious commentator on Arms control- as you are- should take George Perkovich seriously beyond a point either especially when it comes to India. He’s perhaps the single figure who’s held out to represent the ludicrous image many of the more extreme NPA arguements take. His comments on India’s missile program for instance, have been proven to be extremely erroneous and this despite a wealth of research resources available to him.
    Furthermore, I am not attacking you- you are welcome to your POV, nor have I said that you have been particulary nasty. I am merely pointing out what the “other side of the fence” thinks as is often available from reports published in India, and that they too are equally valid.

    “Finally, you do a disservice to your interlocutors by describing their opposition to the India agreement as having arisen ” for who knows what reason.” If you don’t understand the debate underway, perhaps you should read more before commenting. The debate is a straightforward but difficult one: How does the United States accommodate the legitimate right of the world’s largest democracy to continue its economic development without undermining the nonproliferation regime we regard as an important element of global security?”

    Sorry, but once again- the Non Proliferation regime as it exists today has been enforced in a ridiculous and whimsical manner by those who enacted it and has been repeatedly violated whenever it suited a particular nation’s interest- especially by the PRC.
    In that sense- the arguement before the NPA community is a straight one, India will continue to advance despite the best or worst efforts of those who seek to curtail its local R&D, etc. Its a given- same as China’s, it crossed the roll back stage long back. What counts is whether the US wishes to have India as its ally or at least as a “friend”, instead of following the rather isolationist arguements made by many in the NPA community.
    If they push too hard, India will walk, and thats that. Given its security environment, it cant afford to give into idealistic aims, as laudable as they may be in the overall sense- deweaponisation etc. Nor can it rely upon some other state to come to India’s aid unconditionally when the chips are down and its faced with a N threat.

    And given India’s democratic structure- as you point out- it is not going to be a “danger state” either.

    Furthermore, despite a test in 1974, and available technical ability, India did not proceed with weaponisation- it kept its options open. What changed then? The Pak test of Ballistic Missiles that could strike deep within, the open support by the PRC and the growing linkages with NKorea. And herein lies the rub,if the NPA Community at the time had been adequately strict, India’s genie might have remained in the bottle, albeit a half corked one. Anyway, this is moot now.

    It is as much as in the US’s strategic interest to move forward as it is India’s. But if the NPA pressure scuttles this deal, the world wont be a safer place either, and both countries will move on, but a historic first in mutual ties would have been scuppered. Plus India’s energy security needs may force it to rely upon Iran which the US, as is clear, definitely does not want India to do. Just a big mess overall.

    Regards and have a happy new year!
    A

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