NEW DELHI: Around 40 years after India used plutonium from a Canadian heavy water reactor to carry out its first nuclear test in defiance of world opinion, Ottawa is set to resume nuclear commerce with New Delhi.
Earlier this week, India and Canada vaulted the final hurdle in dismantling sanctions imposed after the Pokhran I test by signing an Appropriate Arrangement Agreement (AAA) that will allow Canada to ship uranium to India.
The agreement was signed between the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and India’s Department of Atomic Energy. Canada is home to the second most significant uranium mining industry in the world after Kazakhstan.
France and Russia have supplied some quantities of uranium, but Canada did not after the nuclear embargo imposed by the developed world on India. An agreement with Australia has been inked, but a safeguards framework is still being negotiated.
Nuclear cooperation with Canada has high symbolic significance for India as it marks a change, as PM Manmohan Singh himself earlier put it, in international realities. Ottawa had stopped all such cooperation after India used plutonium from the Canadian reactor to built its first atomic bomb.
Signed in 2010
India and Canada had signed a civil nuclear cooperation agreement in 2010 that allowed them to initiate negotiations for supply of uranium, or the AAA. Canada’s insistence on having a stringent monitoring mechanism for use of its uranium by India led to a stalemate in the talks.
Canada, however, seems to have relented when PM Stephen Harper declared during his highly successful visit to India last November that both countries have concluded negotiations. The AAA still needed to be signed, though. Government sources here said Canada will use nuclear watchdog IAEA’s safeguards already in place to ensure its uranium is not used for advancing India’s nuclear weapon programme.
India had maintained all along during the negotiations that its safeguards agreement with IAEA – signed in February 2009 — was enough to take care of Canada’s concerns over non-proliferation and how New Delhi was going to use its uranium meant only for civilian facilities.
The US, which yanked India out of nuclear isolation, was the driving force behind the safeguards agreement – approved by the IAEA in August 2008 – that paved the way for a special waiver from Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) allowing New Delhi to indulge in nuclear commerce despite not having signed NPT.
The Indian government believes Canada, with its large and high-quality reserves of uranium, could become an important supplier for India’s ambitious nuclear power programme that envisages 30,000 MW of nuclear power by 2030. India’s current nuclear power production stands at a paltry 5,000MW. According to experts just producing 200 MW of nuclear power can require over 30 tonnes of uranium.
* To meet uranium shortfall India has signed civil nuclear cooperation deals with some of the most important uranium producing countries like Canada, Kazakhstan, Australia, Namibia and Mongolia.
* France and Russia are already supplying uranium to India, but with Australia it is having to negotiate a uranium safeguards agreement.
* India wants to increase nuclear power to over 20,000MW by 2020. This is four times the current production and involves an annual increase in uranium demand by 1,500 tonnes.
* India currently produces 450 metric tonnes of uranium and its reserves are modest: 61,000 tonnes of recoverable metal.