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Roots of Nuclear Proliferation

30 May, 2006

By Adnan Gill

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Every time an atom of uranium or plutonium finds its way to the core of nuclear weapon, angels of “Manhattan Project” ring a bell in Los Alamos. The bells have not rung so often and so loud since the Cold-War ended. Any nation that feels insecure or craves recognition pays homage to these angels. Emperor Hirohito dreamt of it, Hitler strived for it, but it was the American President Harry Truman who on July 16, 1945 set the nuclear genie loose in the deserts of Los Alamos.

Nuclear proliferation was born with the first set of American nuclear weapons. The US launched the practice by gifting it to the UK and France. French passed the nuclear technology to Israel and India. The rogue (socialist) elements in the UK and US exported the same technology to the Soviet Union, which in turn gave it away to countries like China and India. China in kind, passed it to Pakistan who is said to have kept the tradition alive by passing it on to Iran, Libya and North Korea. Israel did its part by bringing South Africa and Brazil onboard, as India lovingly took Iraq, Vietnam, South Korea and especially Iran under its wings.

On May, 02, 2006, Pakistan announced an end to investigations surrounding the leaking of nuclear secrets by the Pakistani nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan. Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tasnim Aslam announced, “[as far Pakistan is] concerned this chapter is closed.” With these words Pakistan sent a strong message to the world community.

Multifold message was loud and clear:

1. We are displeased and disappointed with the US for rewarding India by signing a discriminatory Indo-US nuclear deal despite India’s disreputable proliferation and dismal nuclear safety record.

2. We disapprove the American strategy of propping up India as the regional policeman.

3. Instead of winning friends for our full cooperation to the US and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in dismantling the so-called A.Q. proliferation network Pakistan is being unwarrantedly cornered; therefore Pakistan will protect its strategic interests first and foremost by putting an end to the witch hunt of its nuclear scientists whose efforts and sacrifices significantly improved Pakistan’s security.

The US proliferation started when it trained the foreign scientists from Britain, Canada and France in the art of "Atomic Bomb" making during the Manhattan project. In an effort to contain communism before it could find its way out of the Soviet Union the US started to pass on nuclear technology to its friends under the garb of the "Atoms for Peace" program. To this day the world has not been able to recover from this massive US proliferation.

Though the United States merits the dubious distinction of being the original proliferator, it was soon joined by a host of other wannabes. Following is a brief history of global proliferation, the actors involved and the end results.

Soviet Union: Great Soviet minds such as Yakov Zel’dovich and Yuli Khariton were tinkering with the nuclear technology, but it took no less than complete designs and data of American nuclear weapons supplied by the "Atom Spies" like Klaus Fuchs and Rosenbergs to detonate USSR’s first nuclear device. The USSR detonated its first nuclear device on 29 August 1949.

Britain: The British program directly benefited from the American Manhattan Project when its scientists like Geoffrey I. Taylor and William G. Penney were sent to Los Alamos under the cover of 1943 Quebec Agreement. These scientists became the nucleus for the British post-war atomic weapons development efforts. Under the Quebec Agreement, Canada supplied plutonium for the first British nuclear device (codenamed Hurricane). Britain detonated its first device on 15 September 1952.

France: The French scientists like Dr. Bertrand Goldschmitt also worked with the Anglo-Canadian team on the Manhattan Project. After the war, he continued the weapons work in France. First French nuclear test, codenamed Gerboise Bleue, was conducted on 13 February 1960 at Reggane in Algeria.

China: China made tremendous gains from the Soviet proliferation. In 1951 Peking signed a secret agreement with Moscow through which China received nuclear assistance in exchange for uranium ores. In 1957, China and USSR signed an agreement on new technology for national defense, which included additional Soviet nuclear assistance. The Soviets also supplied China with a major gaseous diffusion facility to enrich uranium. China’s first nuclear test was conducted at Lop Nor on 16 October 1964.

India: India is a prime example of American-initiated nuclear proliferation through the “Atoms for Peace” program. During the 1950s and then in 1960s the US and Canada helped India to lay the foundation of its nuclear weapons technology. In 1956, Canada built 40 megawatt Canada-India Reactor, US (CIRUS) in India. The US supplied heavy water for it. This reactor later became the source of plutonium for India’s nuclear devices tested in 1974 and 1998.

In 1963 India ordered two 210-megawatt reactors from General Electric. India received its first heavy water production plant from Germany in 1962 and then built additional seven heavy water plants with help of France and Switzerland. Later on in the 80s Norway and Soviet Union became the major suppliers of heavy water for India’s unsafeguarded nuclear plants through a German middleman named Alfred Hempel (a former Nazi who shipped tons of heavy water via Dubai). In 1965, the Britain established Gauribidnur Seismic Station at BARC, which was used to develop and calibrate fast-slow explosive lenses used in 1974 nuclear device. In 1969, 30 Indian nuclear scientists, engineers, and technicians traveled to France for training and subsequent work on the designs of its fast breeder reactor. In 1974, Canada agreed to provide India blueprints for its CANDU reactor. The blueprints enabled India to build its first reactor in Rajasthan. Canada also funded the project by extending a $37 million loan. In the 70s, theUSSR assumed the role of main supplier of heavy water and nuclear technology to India. During the 80s, India clandestinely acquired and developed centrifuge technology from the USSR and built uranium enrichment plants at Trombay and Mysore. This clandestine supply enabled the Indians to use reactors like Dhruva to create plutonium for its atomic weapons program. India clandestinely acquired and developed centrifuge technology from the USSR and built uranium enrichment plants at Trombay and Mysore. This clandestine supply enabled the Indians to use reactors like Dhruva to create plutonium for its atomic weapons program.

Ironically, Indian nuclear program is also a partner of the A.Q. Khan network. According to South African court documents, in the late 1980s and early 90s, the network organized the production and delivery of flow meter units for India’s gas centrifuge program. The network provided additional sensitive items to the Indian program, including feed and withdrawal equipment for centrifuge cascades.

In January 1996, in a barefaced show of defiance of a "Nuclear Suppliers Group" ban, Moscow and New Delhi, reached an agreement to build two Russian nuclear reactors at Kudankalam in Tamil Nadu. Not to be left behind, in March 2006, President Bush also signed a nuclear corporation deal with India which will vastly enhance Indian ability to manufacture about 50 nuclear weapons per year.

India conducted its first so-called "peaceful nuclear explosion," on 18 May 1974.

Israel: France laid the foundations of Israeli nuclear program on 3 October 1957, by signing an agreement to build a 24 MWt reactor (although the cooling systems and waste facilities were designed to handle three times that power) and, a chemical reprocessing plant in Israel. Under the leadership of Col. Manes Pratt of the IDF Ordinance Corps a secret nuclear complex was constructed at Dimona, Negev desert. France also supplied the heavy water and delivered Uranium for the Israeli plant which went critical in 1964.

Since 1958, the United States had been well aware of the Israel nuclear program, but it did nothing to stop it. Walworth Barbour, US ambassador to Israel from 1961-73, said the "President did not send me there to give him problems. He does not want to be told any bad news." After the 1967 war, Barbour even put a stop to military attachés' intelligence collection efforts around Dimona. In 1966, upon learning Israel was beginning to put nuclear warheads on its missiles, the US embassy staff sent a warning message to Washington, the message disappeared in thin air and was never acted upon.

United Kingdom also generously contributed to the Israeli nuclear program. It supplied Israel plutonium, uranium 235, beryllium, and lithium 6.

Israel is believed to be in possession of up to 200 nuclear weapons. In 1979, in collaboration with South Africa, Israel is suspected to have conducted a nuclear explosion in the southern Indian Ocean.

South Africa: Israel introduced South Africa to the exclusive nuclear weapons club. In exchange for S. Africa’s 300 tons of uranium Israel provided technical assistance for its weapons program. "Oppenheimer of Israel" Ernst David Bergmann and several other Israeli nuclear scientists visited South Africa in 1967. In 1974, Moshe Dayan secretly visited S. Africa to discuss nuclear weapon cooperation, including the possibility of nuclear tests. Between 1977 and 78 Israel received 50 tons of natural uranium from S. Africa and in return supplied 30 grams of tritium. Israel is also believed to have provided bomb the design. Till July 1990, South Africa was in possession of six nuclear devices and an additional partially completed device.

Brazil: The US proliferation to Brazil goes way back to the 1940s when it signed an agreement to transfer the nuclear technology in exchange for cooperative mining of uranium and monazite. In 1965, the US provided Brazil with medium-grade enriched uranium for its first nuclear reactor. In 1975, Brazil signed an unsafeguarded technology transfer agreement with West Germany for a complete nuclear fuel cycle, including enrichment and reprocessing plants. The agreement called for Germany to transfer eight nuclear reactors, an uranium enrichment facility, plutonium reprocessing plant, and Becker "jet nozzle" enrichment technology. Brazilian nuclear weapons program code-named "Solimões" was exposed by the members of Comissão Parlamentar de Inquérito. Instituto de Estudos Avançados designed two nuclear devices.

Iraq: Roots of Iraqi nuclear weapons program are also traced back to the US "Atoms for Peace" program and to the Soviet-supplied research reactor. In 1974 Saddam Hussein flew to India to sign a nuclear cooperation treaty with the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The treaty involved the exchange of scientists, training, and technology. Iraqi scientists worked in India's plutonium separation labs. The same Iraqi scientists later took charge of the nuclear fuel reprocessing unit supplied to Iraq by the Italian company. Indian scientists trained the Iraqis at Atomic Energy Commission's computer center on the use of nuclear computer codes. In 1976, Iraq and France concluded an agreement for MTR reactors. In 1979, Iraq sent engineers to visit India's nuclear establishments. During the same year, Iraq contracted the Italian company SNIA-Techint to build pilot plutonium separation and handling facility, and a uranium refining and unsafeguarded fuel-manufacturing plant. Iraq also obtained large amounts of uranium from Portugal, Brazil and Nigeria. An IAEA group in April 1992, announced Iraqi nuclear weapons program plan was established in 1988. Iraq’s objective was to produce its first nuclear weapon by 1991.

Iran: Iran is yet another example of American-initiated proliferation through the “Atoms for Peace” program. In late 1960s a US supplied 5MW thermal research reactor went online. In 1974, ‘76 and ‘77 Iran concluded several contracts with the US, Germany and France for the construction of nuclear plants and the supply of nuclear fuel. In 1976, Iran signed a $700 million contract to purchase uranium from South Africa. Ironically, at one time during Shah’s rule Iran and Israel discussed a plan to modify Israel's surface-to-surface Jericho missiles for use by Iran. In 1995, Russia signed an agreement with Iran to complete the construction of the Bushehr reactors and to build three additional reactors.

Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi visited Tehran in 1974 to establish nuclear contacts between Iran and India. In 1975 Iran hosted nuclear technical advisers from India. On November 11, 1991 the Indian External Affairs Minister Madhav Singh Solanki signed a technical cooperation deal with Iran ensuring the delivery of 10MW reactor to Iran. An Indian nuclear scientist Dr. Y.S.R. Prasad who retired in 2000 made at least two visits to Iran’s Bushehr nuclear facility. In December 2003, 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 for nuclear proliferation to Iran. The US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher explained, "The cases reflected poor Indian commitment to non-proliferation." The US also sanctioned two Indian firms for selling prohibited items to Iran.

In April 2006, Iranian President Ahmadinejad declared "Iran has joined the club of nuclear nations," which meant Iran has completed enriched fuel cycle.

Those who view Pakistan’s amateurish attempts at nuclear proliferation as unique or as a new phenomenon either harbor malice in their hearts or are selectively oblivious of history of nuclear proliferation. Their attempt is as spiteful as it is deliberate. Those moralizing to Pakistan are well advised to do some honest soul searching.

The nuclear proliferation genie set loose by President Harry Truman will continue to wreck havoc till the end of time or till every nation renounce the nuclear technology in all of its manifestations.

Courtesy Defense Journal


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