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Nukes for India

14 March, 2006

By Adnan Gill

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On March 2, 2006, succumbing to unrelenting pressure from neo-cons` nuclear lobby and the increasingly powerful Indian lobby, President Bush signed a nuclear technology-sharing/transfer deal with India. Reportedly, President Bush agreed to share so-called `civilian nuclear technology` with India despite its dubious nuclear weapons programs and its refusal to sign the 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). President Bush has single handedly done what last six US presidents refused to do. For decades President Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Bush (Senior) refused to aid India`s nuclear-weapons program by breaking US and international laws meant to reign in nuclear proliferation. If the US Congress will not judiciously kill the ill advised deal, the ripple effects from the U.S. decision to violate international treaties, and reverse decades of non-proliferation policy by permitting sales of nuclear technology and fuels to India will be felt for ages to come.

The details of the deal are largely unknown, but it appears that at least one-third of current and future Indian nuclear plants will be exempt from International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections. Experts believe the "Indian-specific" inspection regime envisioned by the Bush administration falls well short of the normal, full-scope inspections practiced worldwide.

India has limited uranium reserves, but thanks to President Bush, US will supply uranium fuel for Indian civilian nuclear reactors, which in turn will free up Indian originated uranium to make nuclear weapons. It is estimated that currently India is producing approximately six to 10 nuclear bombs per year. The deal will certainly boost Indian nuclear weapons production to several dozen a year. By all means, the deal assists and enhances India`s nuclear-weapons program. In the words of one of the deal`s architect turned lobbyist, "the problem is not that India has too many nuclear weapons, it is that they do not have enough." As a good neo-con soldier, President Bush is doing his best to turn India`s dream into a reality.

Last time the US generously handed over the civilian nuclear technology to India, it resulted in a so-called “peaceful nuclear explosion” (detonated on May 18, 1974). The radioactive core for India`s first nuclear device was the plutonium diverted from its American-Canadian supplied civilian nuclear reactor (CIRUS). This time around too, it is hard to imagine how the US will ensure the Indians will not divert or copy the technology transfer for military purposes?

Non-proliferation experts like Dr. Joseph Cirincione (director for non-proliferation, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC.) are deeply worried of another negative effect stemming from this deal. He believes the deal is setting a “bad example” for other countries pursuing their own nuclear programs. Dr. Cirincione explains, “The lesson Iran is likely to draw is simple: if you hold out long enough, the Americans will cave. All this talk about violating treaties, they will reason, is just smoke. When the Americans think you are important enough, they will break the rules to accommodate you.” He further shares his fears emanating from this deal, “Pakistani officials have already said they expect their country to receive a similar deal, and Israel is surely waiting in the wings. Other nations may decide that they can break the rules, too, to grant special deals to their friends. China is already rumored to be seeking a deal to provide open nuclear assistance to Pakistan. Will Russia decide that it can make an exception for Iran?”

Contrary to Bush Administrations bullish pursuit to modernize Indian nuclear program, serious objections have been raised in India and the United States against this particular deal. American environmentalists, opinion makers (e.g. New York Times & Washington Post), and legislators are questioning the wisdom behind Bush Administration`s desire to modernize Indian nuclear program at the cost of violating international treaties like NPT and in a display of barefaced defiance of a “Nuclear Suppliers Group” ban.

The deal drew wide criticism from all corners of Earth, including from the US media and lawmakers. Both Republicans and Democrats legislators in the US Congress angered over being kept in dark about the deal promised the White House an uphill battle.

Republicans and Democrats legislators in the US Congress are deeply concerned over the nuclear deal. Purportedly, the deal was conceived by a few senior Bush administration officials and was never reviewed by the departments of State, Defense or Energy prior to the joint-announcement.

Apparently, the US Congress was left out of loop. Even the Bush loyalists like, chairman of the Subcommittee on International Terrorism and Nonproliferation, Republican Congressman Ed Royce issued veiled warning, "the US-India agreement on civil nuclear cooperation has implications beyond US-India relations. In this process, the goal of curbing nuclear proliferation should be paramount. Congress will continue its careful consideration of this far-reaching agreement."

Democratic Congressman Edward Markey most vocally criticized the deal by saying, "America cannot credibly preach nuclear temperance from a barstool. We can`t tell Iran, a country that has signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, that they can`t have [uranium] enrichment technologies while simultaneously carving out a special exemption from nuclear-proliferation laws for India, a nation that has refused to sign the treaty." Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Senator Richard Lugar and Republican, Congressman Henry Hyde both have made no secret of their reservations about the deal.

Dismissing critics who charged that the agreement with New Delhi would prompt nations such as Pakistan to seek similar treatment and escalate their own weapons production, Bush said, "Pakistan and India are different countries, with different needs and different histories". Apparently, President Bush was referring to A.Q. Khan, the former head of Pakistan`s nuclear program, who allegedly ran a black-market operation selling nuclear secrets and technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya. In response, the non-proliferation experts point to India`s unholy record of proliferating nuclear technology to Iran, and Iraq (President Bush`s axis of evil).

India has a long history of horizontal and vertical nuclear proliferation. It is public knowledge that India`s nuclear weapons are developed from the radioactive cores diverted from her so-called civilian nuclear reactors. Not only that, India also built a long rap sheet of nuclear proliferation by callously paddling WMD technologies to the supposedly pariah nations like Iran and Iraq.

Indian Nuclear/WMD Proliferation Record:

Proliferation to Iran

India has a distinct record of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) collaboration with Iran. Although this collaboration can be traced to as far back as 1970s, following is a list of most glaring examples of Indian WMD proliferation to Iran:

  • Following Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi`s 1974 official visit to Tehran, Iran and India announced contacts will be made "between the atomic energy organizations in the two countries in order to establish a basis for cooperation in this field." [1]

  • Reportedly, in 1975 Iran hosted nuclear technical advisers from (among others) India who worked on its nuclear program.[2]

  • During 1980 and1983, Iran requested Indian help in completing the Bushehr reactor after West Germany halted work on the project in 1980. [3]

  • Indian nuclear collaboration with Iran goes at least as far back as 1982. In 1982, the Indian radio and BBC Summary of World Broadcasts reported that India will send a group of nuclear engineers and scientists to Iran. They supposedly inspected the Bushehr nuclear power plant to study the problems.

    On July 1, 1989, officials from Indian State Trading Corporation in Bombay admited that they sold about 60 tons of thionyl chloride (a mustard gas or nerve agent precursor) to Iran for approximately $50,000. Allegedly, the same year another Indian State Trading Company`s supplier, Transpek Private Ltd., sold about 257 tons more of the chemical to Iran. [4]

  • On February 1, 1991, Indian Atomic Energy Commission announced that India will seek to export its nuclear technology. Following the Indian announcement the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran negotiates to purchase nuclear technology or expertise from India. As a result, India and Iran exchange nuclear scientists. [5]

  • In the October of same year (1991), Iran`s Deputy Foreign Minister Alaeddin Borujerdi met Indian Prime Minister Narasimha Rao in New Delhi to discuss the purchase of 10MW reactor. Finally on November 11, 1991 the Indian Foreign Minister Sing Solanki signed a technical cooperation deal with Iran ensuring the delivery of 10MW reactor to Iran. [6]

  • In a Middle East Defense News June 8, 1992 report, it was announced, Iran negotiated the purchase of a 10MW nuclear research reactor subsequently installed at the Moallem Kalayeh site. Though the construction on the Moallem Kalayah site had already begun in 1987.

  • Another Indian company, Transpek Industry Ltd., in 1990, won an estimated $12.5 million bid to install and commission a turn-key chemical plant in Iran. By 1996 the company built the world`s largest manufacturing facility for thionyl chloride outside of Europe. [7]

  • In November 1994, the German intelligence reported that an Indian consortium was building a pesticide plant that could be linked to the production of chemical weapons in Iran. [8]

  • On January 30, 1995, the German Intelligence Agency (BND) stated that Indian companies were aiding Iran in its development of tabun and sarin. [9]

  • In its January 1995 report, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported that Indian firms have provided equipment and raw materials to Iran, which aided the Iranian development of chemical weapons. [10]

  • Reportedly, an Indian nuclear scientist Dr. Y.S.R. Prasad who retired in 2000 made at least two visits to Iran`s Bushehr nuclear facility. Mr. Chidambaram, a former head of the Atomic Energy Commission, acknowledged Dr. Prasad`s work in Iran. He said Dr. Prasad "originally went to Iran as part of an IAEA assignment. Later, he went back to Bushehr under a private contract with the Iranians."

  • The Hindustan Times, quoted a classified government document, which stated Dr. Prasad spent years working on India`s atomic energy programmes, did not seek government permission to go to Iran. [11]

  • The most damning admission of Indian nuclear proliferation to Iran came in December 2003. When pressed by Iranian reporters, the Indian external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha said "most certainly between Iran and India, there would be collaboration, there is collaboration".

  • In 2004, the US State Department blacklisted two Indian scientists. The Indian nuclear scientists were charged with nuclear proliferation to Iran. The US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher explained, "The cases reflected poor Indian commitment to non-proliferation."

  • In yet another instance, the US sanctioned two Indian firms for selling prohibited items to Iran.

Proliferation to Iraq

Likewise, Indian-Iraqi nuclear relations date back to 1974, when Saddam Hussein flew to India specifically to sign a nuclear cooperation treaty with the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

  • The little known nuclear cooperation treaty involved the exchange of scientists, training, and technology. After the destruction of the Iraqi (French-supplied) Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981, Iraq severly limited the exchange of scientists for fear of revealing its clandestine program, but till then, Iraqi scientists were working in India`s plutonium separation labs. The same Iraqi scientists who gained valuable training and experience from working in Indian nuclear labs later took charge of the nuclear fuel reprocessing unit supplied to Iraq by the Italian company CNEN. An Indian scientist trained the Iraqi scientist at Atomic Energy Commission`s computer center on the use of nuclear computer codes. [12]

  • In 1979, Iraq sent engineers to visit India`s nuclear establishments and scientists. [13]

  • CNN reported that Investigators say between 1998 and 2001, an Indian company NEC Engineers Private Ltd. illegally shipped 10 consignments (worth $800,000) of highly sensitive equipment, including titanium vessels and centrifugal pumps, to Iraq. NEC reportedly built the chemical plant in the city of Fallujah. In a statement by NEC Engineers Private Ltd`s project manager, N. Katturajan said the chemical facility was controlled by Iraqi military. According to CNN “official at NEC Engineers Private Ltd. said large amounts of chlorine were removed from the Fallujah chemical complex, which was constructed by Indian engineers. Experts say chlorine can be used in the production of chemical weapons like mustard gas and nerve agents.” For their services rendered the Indian managers from NEC Engineers` Private Limited demanded $1 million. [14]

India has a record of proliferating WMDs through knowledge support and material transport. It has a huge manpower trained in nuclear secrets, which inherently makes it a considerable knowledge transfer risk. American nuclear technology transfer to India will only exponentially increase the odds of American nuclear secrets being leaked to whole world.

Even if by some miracle India does not leak the American secrets to other nations, the technology will for sure find its way to Indian military nuclear weapons program. Anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of how nuclear technology works knows there are no fundamental differences between so-called `civilian` and `military` nuclear facilities. No matter how one designates a nuclear facility, all it takes to fashion a nuclear weapon is a transfer of irradiated fuel (e.g. plutonium) from a nuclear reactor to reprocessing plant. India is not a NPT signatory and has a record of diverting nuclear fuel from its civilian facilities to weapons program. World community will have to take Bush Administration`s word that India will not misuse US technology to modernize and bolster its nuclear weapons stockpile.

If the Bush Administration in its pursuit of contain-China-by-building-up-India policy can be callus enough to unilaterally violate the NPT, -- by transferring latest US nuclear technology to India -- it is anyone`s guess why or how it will guarantee that such a transfer will not benefit India`s nuclear weapons program?

On the other hand, for different reasons, even some Indian voices are joining the opposition to this deal. At the heart of Indian opposition were India`s Fast Breeder Reactors [FBR]. Americans were demanding the FBRs to be separated from Indian military nuclear facilities. But the leading Indian scientists who believe their nuclear program to be much more advanced than Americans`, especially its FBR program, succeeded in keeping the FBRs out of Indian civilian nuclear facilities list. They believe FBRs to be the salvation for the unhindered production of fissile material for its unverifiable nuclear weapons. Therefore, they staunchly opposed categorization of its FBRs as civilian nuclear facilities.

India`s first fast breeder nuclear reactor (adopted from the French reactor design) has already completed 20 years of work. The FBTR is located at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research [IGCAR] at Kalpakkam. Indian experts envision FBRs to be the technology that can secure India`s energy future as it can convert thorium (readily available in India) into U-233. Such reactors also form the second stage of India`s nuclear program, converting Uranium 238 present in nature to plutonium. It is basically an invaluable source of unaccounted fissile material for India`s nuclear weapons.

Ironically, highly suspicious Indian scientists who also belong to the Swadeshi Science Movement (Vijnana Bharti) believe the U.S. offer of collaboration in India`s nuclear research to be a tactic to steal Indian technology. Vijnana Bharti`s organizing Secretary A. Jayakumar, in an open letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, said, “The deal offers no tangible benefits to India”. Mr. Jayakumar said “the American offer of reciprocity and collaboration in our nuclear research and development is nothing more than the ancient tactic of Dhrithrashtra embrace.” He further complained, “experience shows that either [U.S] would stall it, or steal it.” Mr. Jayakumar asked the government not to surrender Indian interests to the U.S. and finally warned, “otherwise all patriotic citizens of this land, cutting across political and academic lines, would take to the streets”.

It`s also worth mentioning that the IGCAR has a tainted safety and hazard record. According to IGCAR, in 1987, during a fuel transfer process, a tube that guides fuel into the reactor snapped. Then in 2002, 75kg of radioactive sodium leaked inside a purification cabin.

The deal gave India a final say over which reactors to open to inspection and which ones to declare secret military sites, where weapons continue to be produced. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration caved in to Indian demands and allowed it to classify FBRs as military sites. This one misclassification will essentially enable India to secretly produce unlimited nuclear weapons. And for some unfathomable reason, Bush administration officials said this move would lead to fewer nuclear weapons. But critics were quick to argue that the US reversed decades of precedent with the deal, which lifted the ban on sales of nuclear materials to a country that has refused to sign the nonproliferation treaty and has a record of diverting fissile material from civilian sites.

Regardless of what proponents or opponents of the deal say, it should be clear to the world that, just as it did in the past, sooner or later India will divert American nuclear technology to its weapons program. The questions Bush Administration and members of Nuclear Suppliers Group should be seriously asking are, will the modernization of Indian nuclear weapons make the world, especially, the South-Asia safer? Will the American technology transfer start a new nuclear weapons race between India and Pakistan vis-à-vis China? Is it wise to destabilize the world by further arming a nation with a history of dishonoring its word? If not, then why the neo-cons in the Bush Administration are hell-bent at undermining the international treaties and conventions by breaking them in spirit and practice?

The greatest irony of this Indo-US deal remains that While America disarms the unarmed, it arms up the well armed. Key Sources:

  1. ["Full Text of Iran-India Joint Communiqué," Iran Almanac (Tehran: The Echo of Iran, 1974), p. 176]
  2. [George Quester, "The Shaw and the Bomb" (unpublished paper, 1975), and a private interview conducted in February 1975; in Anne Hessing Cahn, "Determinants of the Nuclear Option: The Case of Iran," Nuclear Proliferation in the Near-Nuclear Countries (Cambridge: Ballinger Publishing Co., 1975), Onkar Marwah and Ann Shulz, eds., p. 199.]
  3. [Nuclear News Buyers Guide, March 1983, pp. 19-24]
  4. ["India Says It Sold Iran a Chemical Used in Poison Gas," The New York Times, 1 July 1989, p. 1]
  5. [“Nucleonics Week”, 7 February 1991, p. 17; Nuclear News, March 1991, p. 56]
  6. ["An Iranian Nuclear Chronology, 1987-1982", "Nuclear Facilities," Middle East Defense News, 8 June 1992]
  7. [Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI):]
  8. [Chemical Weapons Convention Bulletin, March 1995]
  9. [The Arms Control Reporter; Chemical Weapons Convention Bulletin, October 1995, Issue Number 27]
  10. [The Arms Control Reporter; Chemical Weapons Convention Bulletin October, 1995, Issue Number 27]
  11. [Top Indian nuclear expert helped Iran develop power plant: report;]
  12. [India`s Nuclear Tests: Will They Open New Possibilities for Iraq to Exploit?; ISIS Issue Brief; May 28, 1998]
  13. [Chengappa, Raj. 2000. Weapons of Peace, HarperCollins Publishers India, ISBN 81-7223-330-2]
  14. [Probe into illegal Indian exports to Iraq, New Delhi Bureau Chief Satinder Bindra and Amol Sharma, January 26, 2003; Indian documents suggest Iraq violated U.N. resolutions, Satinder Bindra and Amol Sharma, CNN, February 5, 2003]


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