~ The Indian Nuclear Bomb Tests ~
Wednesday, May 13, 1998 - For Immediate Release
Canada's historic role in India's first nuclear weapons test
Details on Canada's nuclear trade with India
Ottawa -- Contrary to federal government assurances in the House of Commons, Canadian nuclear technology has played a significant role in events leading to India's recent nuclear detonations, environmental groups charge.
Reputable military sources have revealed that India's supply of tritium (which is often used for detonation of a thermonuclear device) is being produced using commercial nuclear power reactors of Canadian design. One of the three nuclear explosions in India's round of testing on Monday involved a thermonuclear device.
CANDU reactors are the only commercially available nuclear reactors that produce both plutonium and tritium. India's first nuclear explosion in 1974 used plutonium from a heavy water reactor that was a gift from the Canadian government.
"India's ability to detonate nuclear devices was not developed in isolation," said Elizabeth May, Executive Director of the Sierra Club of Canada. "The Chrétien government always wants to celebrate sales of nuclear technology, without facing responsibility for a history of AECL sales to India, Pakistan, Taiwan; dictatorships in Argentina and Romania; and most recently South Korea and China. There is a clear cause and effect relationship between Canada's history of nuclear assistance to India and the events of the past two days." May added, "Calling for sanctions after the fact, ignores the federal government's own role in pushing nuclear exports."
Kristen Ostling, National Coordinator of the Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout pointed out that the technical assistance and reactor designs provided by Canada to India formed the basis of India's nuclear industry and allowed it to develop a current "civilian capacity" to produce over 300 kg of plutonium annually. "Only 5 to 8 kg of plutonium is required to produced a nuclear bomb. The lessons learned in 1974 are obvious to any school child and should be obvious to the federal government in 1998. It has proved impossible to separate civilian nuclear power from its military applications," said Ostling. "All of Canada's current and past customers for nuclear reactors have at one time or another pursued nuclear weapons programs."
Gordon Edwards, President of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility stated, "the Canadian government is being grossly irresponsible in allowing the sale of nuclear reactors to foreign countries, knowing that there is nothing to stop future regimes from using materials produced in those reactors to develop nuclear weapons. Canada is being hypocritical in demanding that India stop nuclear testing while not demanding that all countries give up their nuclear weapons."
Over the years India has continued to make use of an ongoing Canadian nuclear connection. In the late 1980's, India and Pakistan quietly rejoined the CANDU Owners Group (COG) Information Exchange Program despite a Canadian government policy of nuclear non-cooperation with India. In April 1995, it was reported that AECL staff visited India to discuss retubing of its RAPP reactors and to discuss the possible sale of CANDU reactors to India.
More recently, in January 1998, a report published by Janes Intelligence Review noted that scientists at India's Bhabha Atomic Research Centre have developed a process for extracting highly enriched tritium (the most powerful explosive in a thermonuclear weapon) from heavy water in Canadian-design power reactors.
In a complicated, multi-stage thermonuclear bomb, most of the tritium is generated internally at the time of the explosion from a substance called lithium deuteride. However, a small amount of externally-supplied tritium is often used to start a fusion reaction going to help heat the solid lithium deuteride to the necessary temperature of millions of degrees. Such bombs can have an explosive force hundreds or thousands of times greater than that of a normal fission bomb.
In simpler H-bombs, commonly called fusion-enhanced fission bombs, all of the tritium is externally supplied, and the total explosive power is only about double the power of a normal fission bomb.
According to reports, India exploded one or more simple fusion-boosted fission weapons, and a two-stage thermonuclear weapon. In both cases, the externally-supplied tritium was apparently extracted from the heavy water moderator of CANDU-type reactors using a breakthrough technology developed by India which has drastically reduced the cost of producing weapons-grade tritium.
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