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.