Sunday, December 13, 2009

Nuclear Issues: Canada secures significant nuclear deal with India

BY SURESH JAURA Kind permission of IDN-InDepthNews Service

TORONTO (IDN) - With an eye on more than one million Canadians of Indian ancestry and India’s civilian nuclear energy market holding out the promise of enormous business opportunities over the next 20 years, Canada has secured a significant nuclear deal with India.

The text of the agreement has yet to be revealed, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper (photo) said that the agreement would "allow Canadian firms to export and import controlled nuclear materials, equipment and technology to and from India".

The accord was announced Nov 28 in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago, where Prime Minister Harper and his Indian counterpart Dr. Manmohan Singh were participating in the 2009 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

Harper, who had been criticised by a section of the Canadian press for failing to close a deal on his Indian visit two weeks earlier, said: "This agreement is a testimony to the undeniable potential that Canada and India can offer each other and the world. Increased collaboration with India's civilian nuclear energy market will allow Canadian companies to benefit from greater access to one of the world's largest and fastest expanding economies."

Prime Minister Singh noted that talks had been intense after Harper's visit, adding that the Canadian prime minister and his officials had "expedited this process beyond my expectations".

"The civil nuclear agreement is a very important step forward, a milestone for the development of our relationship," Singh said. “We will do all that is within our power to ensure safety and security of our nuclear installations,” he said. “There should be no doubt about that.” He was referring to the concerns over the safety of India’s nuclear facilities because of potential terrorist threats.

Canada had imposed a ban on nuclear trade with India after the latter conducted its first nuclear test in 1974. India was accused of misusing its nuclear technology and material to conduct the test. But Ottawa changed its stance after India and the United States decided negotiate a civilian nuclear agreement. It supported India at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and during the crucial vote at the Nuclear Suppliers Group, of which Canada is a member.

Since September 2008, India had signed nuclear deal with seven countries: USA, France, Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Argentina and Namibia. Canada, the world's largest producer of uranium, has become the eighth.


During a visit to India mid November, Harper called India “a stable and reliable friend” and defended the deal under discussion: “We are not living in the 1970s. We are living in 2009,” he said. Canada had cut nuclear trade in 1974 after India used Canadian materials to manufacture its first nuclear weapon.

The Harper government has been keen to re-establish the relationship because they estimate the energy market in the world’s largest democracy will be worth between $25 billion and $50 billion during the next 20 years.

Ottawa’s Crown corporation, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., has been eager to expand into the Indian market. The nuclear energy industry currently generates about $6.6 billion in revenue.

A major exporter of uranium, Canada can offer Candu pressurized heavy-water reactors through crown corporation AECL. India imported early Candus in the 1970s and went on to develop the design itself. Some 15 of the reactors are now in operation, with another achieving first criticality early December.

Ala Alizadeh of AECL said: "The fact that we share the infrastructure gives us great optimism that we can work together." He said he was looking forward to technology exchanges and cooperative work on reactor life extension and new builds.

He argued that past concerns about non-proliferation and technology leaking into weapons programs were taken care of by India's commitments under its safeguards deal with the IAEA, a related deal with the Nuclear Suppliers Group as well as a cooperation agreement with the USA.

However, it is not yet known how these concerns have been written into the Canadian agreement. Trade relations spokesperson Me'shel Gulliver BĂ©langer confined herself to pointing out that "Canada and India have legally bound themselves to develop full civil nuclear cooperation solely to promote the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes".

Also noting India's IAEA agreements, she stressed: "The agreement pertains only to cooperation between Canada and civilian nuclear installations in India for as long as they are safeguarded by the IAEA."


The London-based World Nuclear News (WNN) reported that also a senior official of the central government Department of Atomic Energy in New Delhi was reluctant to give details. "It is a very happy moment that the agreement has been finalised," he said, "The prime minister has said that we have reached an understanding on the elements of the agreement, so we should not go beyond that and try hair splitting. It is to the satisfaction of the both countries."

However, a former Indian diplomat Arundhati Ghose was more candid. WNN quoted her saying: "The political importance of the deal is much more than the issue of trade. Our current reactor designs are our own but the basic design were the Candus, which were the Canadian ones."

While India was isolated from international nuclear trade it had no access to Canadian equipment or maintenance services and so was forced to devise its own methods, she stressed, a market which Canada is interested in securing. "India would like to access large uranium reserves of Canada, and they would like to have our technologies on Candu reactors."

The political signal of striking a deal with Canada internationally was also important stressed Ghose, because "it the major country among 'non-nuclear' [weapon] nation states" backing international non-proliferation. She saw this as important ahead of the 2010 review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. "It is a win-win situation on nuclear trade and commerce," she said.

Manoj Pundit, spokesperson of Canada India Foundation (CIF) said, "The deal signifies the end of a 35 year impasse between two natural allies and ushers in a new era of economic cooperation for mutual prosperity. It also demonstrates that India recognizes Canada as a willing and able partner to devise and implement strategies to address India's vast energy requirements."

The sale of civilian nuclear technology and hardware to India is expected to have a significant positive impact on Canada's economy, noted Pundit. Exporting Canadian uranium to India would benefit the sagging sales of the radioactive material whose value has slumped in recent years and should aid the Canadian mining industry to recover from the impact of the global meltdown," he said.

Canada India Foundation is a national, non-profit, non-partisan, non-governmental organization established in 2007 to foster support for stronger bilateral relations between Canada and India.elations between Canada and India.

"We urge all opposition parties in (the Canadian) Parliament to steadfastly support the government with respect to this bilateral agreement in the recognition of India as a responsible user of nuclear materials and technologies for peaceful civilian purposes," said CIF chair Ramesh Chotai.

"We especially implore those Parliamentarians who recently questioned the integrity of India's nuclear aspirations by comparing India to Iran to re-examine their positions and take a responsible and principled approach to the deal," Chotai said. (IDN-InDepthNews/12.12.09)

Copyright © 2009 IDN-InDepthNews Service

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