The Smiling Buddha Blast and Canada’s CANDU Snafu

In 1956 Canada provided India with a 40 megawatt “Canadian-Indian Reactor, U.S.” (CIRUS) research reactor near Mumbai. The United States supplied the heavy water necessary to control nuclear fission. In 1959 Canada sold a 125-megawatt nuclear reactor to Pakistan and then in 1964, sold them a “CANada Deuterium Uranium” (CANDU) reactor. In 1971, Canada constructed a 137-megawatt CANDU heavy-water nuclear reactor at Karachi, Pakistan. Canada also included heavy water and a heavy water production facility as part of the deal. Three years later, in 1974, India detonated its first nuclear device, nicknamed the “Smiling Buddha,” at Pokhran, Rajasthan, using plutonium from the CIRUS reactor. Turns out, Canada’s reactors are just great at producing weapons-grade plutonium. Canada did not bother to ask India to comply with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards nor for any accounting of the amount of plutonium the CIRUS produced. India claims that its agreement with Canada did not preclude the use of CIRUS-produced plutonium for “peaceful” nuclear explosions. India described its Smiling Buddha blast as a “Peaceful Nuclear Explosion,” but predictably, as soon as Pakistan saw that India had the Bomb, it put its shiny new CANDU reactor to work developing its own nuclear weapons. Canada is clearly a major proliferator of nuclear weaponry and is completely complicit in the nuclear arming of both Pakistan and India.

On May 11 and 13, 1998, India carried out five nuclear tests at Pokhran. Two weeks later, on May 28 and 29, 1998, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced that Pakistan had conducted five nuclear tests at its base in Baluchistan and had “settled the score with India.” The people of the world can thank Canada for this most dangerous nuclear brinkmanship parlay ever. With its monumental stupidity exposed for all the world to see, after India’s 1974 blast Canada slunk out of the India CANDU project leaving Indian scientists to handle, maintain, repair and operate the nukes on their own. Canada abruptly stopped supplying uranium to Pakistan in 1976, and then slunk out of its Pakistan project. If India and Pakistan ever nuke it out, or if ever those CANDUs should snafu, Canada will have an horrific culpability on its hands.

How Could Canada Do That?

Canada’s nuclear program has been run since its inception in 1952 by Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) which is “a fully integrated nuclear technology and services company providing services to nuclear utilities worldwide.” AECL’s mandate is to create customer and shareholder value through:

Managing the Canadian nuclear platform responsibly and cost effectively.

Leveraging the technology base to deliver nuclear products and services to market.

Paying dividends from profitable growth.

In January of this year Energy Probe refuted this preposterous bunch of bularky by revealing that AECL is a massive subsidy-sucking corporate welfare fraud that is responsible for 12% of Canada’s total debt. According to Tom Adams’ report, $74.9 billion of the Canadian federal debt is directly attributable to tax-payer funded subsidies provided to the AECL. One wonders what post-CANDU meltdown lawsuits might add to this bill.

Immediately after India launched its 1998 nuclear tests, several of India’s top nuclear scientists visited Canada, hoping to end Canadian sanctions on nuclear co-operation which came into effect after India’s atomic blast. Some of the scientists admitted that despite Ottawa’s restrictions, they had actually been able to access Canadian nuclear expertise through their old AECL buddies. Virtually all of India’s nuclear scientists and dozens of their Pakistani counterparts, including “the Godfather of Pakistan’s Bomb,” Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, were trained and hosted by AECL. In 1996, Y. S. R. Prasad, chairman and managing director of India’s Nuclear Power Corp. (NPCIL), visited two nuclear reactors in Ontario, and over the years Canadian scientists have also been visiting Indian reactors. The official line is that none of the information shared helped India develop its bombs. “Our scientists and your scientists are sensible fellows,” said Prasad, while visiting the Canadian reactors. “We are human beings. We are not politicians. We want what is good for humanity.”

India continues to build upon its Canadian designs and now operates seven CANDU clones (in addition to seven other nuclear plants). The international boycott that followed India’s blast slowed India’s nuclear program, which does not accept full-scope inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). “We cannot be blamed for any design limitations of the reactors. They were built with whatever was the latest technology available in the 1970s. Thirty years down the line, it is easy to pick on faults by hindsight,” said an NPCIL official. India has also been developing a rare ability to extract highly radioactive tritium from its reactors. Tritium can be used to boost the yield of atomic bombs and is important to the creation of hydrogen bombs.

Bush Gets Involved

George “Newkewlar” Bush will arrive in India shortly to meet with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to try to finalize their July 18, 2005 “landmark” agreement for the transfer of American civilian nuclear technology to India, thereby lifting sanctions triggered by India’s nuclear tests in 1998. Part of the deal is contingent on the separation of India’s deeply intertwined military and civilian nuclear programs. But India has never signed onto the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and therefore Bush will require the full twist of his Orwellian PR department’s spinmeisters to swing the deal. To ratify the deal, the US Congress would have to change the US Atomic Energy Act that prohibits trade in nuclear technologies with non-members of NPT. Further complications have arisen from the asinine recent diplomatic blunders issuing from the American Ambassador to India, David Mulford.

In December, Mulford created an uproar when he threatened that Washington would pull out of the historic nuclear deal if India did not vote against Iran at the most recent IAEA meeting. India’s Ministry of External Affairs summoned Mulford to their office where Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran asked him to clarify his remarks. Expressing his sincere regrets, Ambassador Mulford said he ‘had been taken out of context’. Mulford’s comments sparked off a huge diplomatic row with former Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee describing the remark as outrageous and undiplomatic and the Left terming it an insult to the nation. In a statement, Vajpayee said: “It violates all diplomatic norms. Ambassadors are not required to make personal remarks denigrating their host country.” Subsequently, Mulford set off another firestorm by his protest letter to West Bengal Chief Minister, M Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee for his characterization of George W Bush as a leader of the “most organised pack of killers” on the planet.

In a now-all-too familiar display of hypocrisy, the IAEA resolution which Bush has now successfully strongarmed India to endorse, sends the Iran issue to the UN Security Council to punish it for its so-called breaches of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and lack of confidence that it is not trying to make weapons. The text of the resolution expresses “serious concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.” It recalls “Iran’s many failures and breaches of its obligations” to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. It expresses “the absence of confidence that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes,” and it requests IAEA Director General, Mohamed ElBaradei, to “report to the Security Council” with steps Iran needs to take to dispel suspicions about its nuclear ambitions. So, India, a producer of nuclear weapons and a nonsignatory of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty, will get nuclear favours from Bush in exchange for supporting Bush’s ramp-up for a seemingly imminent attack on Iran, an NPT signatory, for which there is no evidence of a nuclear weapons program.

Having won India’s IAEA capitulation, Bush then stabbed them in the back. Last Friday’s headline in The Hindu stated: “Bush Demotes India’s Status ~Says “No” to Nuclear Reprocessing”. I quote from the article: “Bush has demoted India from the ranks of ‘leading countries with advanced nuclear technology’ – the phrase used in the July 18, 2005 India-U.S. agreement – to those who merely have a ‘developing nuclear energy programme.’ This unilateral reclassification is not a minor issue. For, only countries that have ‘advanced civilian nuclear energy programmes’ will have the right to reprocess spent nuclear fuel under Mr. Bush’s proposed ‘Global Nuclear Energy Partnership,’ of which the India-U.S. deal is an integral part. In his speech to the Asia Society in Washington on Wednesday, India was named a country that would have to hand over its spent nuclear fuel to a handful of “supplier nations” for reprocessing, forgoing, in the bargain, its right to reprocess the waste generated from its civilian nuclear programme.”

Kalpakkam Nuke Plant and the Tsunami

Back in 1985, I was backpacking around South India and visited the ancient Pallava carved temple village of Mahabalipuram. I climbed up to the lighthouse at sunset, which is perched on top of a large rock outcrop overlooking the beach, and could see the lights of the sprawling Kalpakkam nuclear complex radiating eerily nearby, with its domes and towers vaguely resembling a giant mosque and minarets. At that time, the Kalpakkam reactors were shut down, because a massive jellyfish bloom had plugged up all the plants salt-water cooling intakes.

Kalpakkam is about 80 km south of Chennai (formerly, Madras) and its two nuclear reactors are built pretty much right on the Coromandel Coast beach. During the December 26, 2004 tsunami, the Wave slammed into the nuclear plant’s employees’ township killing 60 of its workers. 500 homes were destroyed and another 250 people were killed nearby. Given the military nature of all nuclear sites in India, information on nuclear releases or other damage related to the tsunami is hard to get. India is very proud that its own scientists designed and built the Kalpakkam nuclear power reactors without foreign assistance, and they immediately moved to assure the world that the Kalpakkam nukes had emerged unscathed. The official line is that the nuclear station withstood the devastation of the Big Wave without any trouble, except for its dead employees. Cyclones were taken into account during the design process, along with their associated storm surges, but tsunamis were not. Kalpakkam had been developed for the worst case scenario cyclonic surge based on historical statistics. The maximum water level that was predicted was for a cyclone event coinciding with the highest of high tides. A maximum surge was estimated at 6 metres or so and the Kalpakkam plant site is said to have been built to withstand that.

In a interview with Senior Editor Sheela Bhatt, L V Krishnan, former director, Safety Research and Health Physics at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research at Kalpakkam, who visited the site a few days after the disaster said that “the tsunami storm surge was not much more than that [6 metres].” He continued, “these nuclear reactors, for cooling purposes, draw water from the sea [salt water cooled]; that is why they are located in the coastal area. In Kalpakkam, half a kilometre into the sea there is a huge well that has been dug. That well is connected to another well on the shore on land. These two wells are connected by an under seabed tunnel. As the storm surge comes in and the water level rises in the well in the sea, the level of water also rises in the well on the shore. The moment the water level rises beyond prescribed limits in the well on the shore, the seawater pump trips. The moment it trips the operator sitting in the control room knows that something is wrong and he trips the reactors.”

Krishnan: “Even before the wave hits the shore, I would say, that the reactors were shut down. Imagine if the waves would have been higher than what was anticipated by planners and if they would have come in, then, what would have happened to the reactors? Nothing at all. The well in the sea and well on the shore are also connected by a jetty. On the shore there is a horizontally spread building that has turbines installed inside. Behind the turbine building lie the domes of two reactors. Even if the tsunami waters had come in they would have hit the turbine building first, not the reactors. And the reactor buildings have walls that are one metre thick.

“So even if waves had affected the site, sea water simply could not have entered the reactors. The reactors are pretty safe. It so happened that this time the water didn’t even enter the turbine building. Even the turbine building is so designed that the ground level is sufficiently raised to withstand earthquakes and storms. Also, all our reactors have a buffer zone of one-and-a-half kilometres between residential localities and the reactor building. If that buffer zone had existed in Bhopal, the death toll would not have been so high. I know from my experiences that district collectors are worried more about oil refineries than the nuclear reactors’ safety measures.”
Bhopal Miasma vs Nuclear Minimata

Mr. Krishnan raises an interesting point, in that there is always a dreadful, usually unspoken association between the Union Carbide pesticide plant catastrophe at Bhopal and India’s potential nuclear Minimata which lurks in the back of the mind. Obviously, gross negligence and mismanagement by Union Carbide resulted in the 1984 methyl isocyanate gas-miasma disaster which killed tens of thousands of people at Bhopal. Nevertheless, although the Union Carbide corporation allowed the plant with its name on it to be managed to a much lesser safety standard than it would have tolerated for any American-based plant, their Indian subsidiary and its consortium of Indian investors also must share responsibility for allowing the plant to be run in such a decrepit and haphazard condition. Let’s face it, meticulous maintenance is not one of India’s strong points. To this date, although the scofflaw Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson may have washed his hands of the disaster, India has still done nothing to clean up the toxic mess which still contaminates the area. Should one of India’s CANDU reactors ever go Chernobyl, Canada will receive its terrible karmic deserts. Although no Canadian has had a say in how those CANDU’s are being run, or maintained since they quit India’s nuke program, India will certainly immediately blame Canada for any CANDU catastrophe, and just like Union Carbide, they will be culpable.

In a stinging rebuke for the Indian nuclear industry, the outgoing Chairperson of India’s Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), A. Gopalakrishnan, stated, “Many of our nuclear installations have aged with time and have serious problems which are characteristic of the early vintage designs. Our own efforts to find indigenous solutions to these problems are not well organised or focused. The country had an inherent capability to tackle these problems, but the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) has uniquely failed in bringing together these national strengths and coordinating them for the benefit of the nuclear sector.”

Amit Varma interviewed local Kalpakkam physician, Dr. Pugazhenthi after the tsunami for his blog, India Uncut,The Tsunami Posts. Pugazhenthi has a different take from LV Krishnan on the matter of the tsunami. “A bigger problem than the reactor itself,” he tells us,”is the [nuclear] waste-management facility, which is a kilometre back from the shore. The waters did not go that far this time [they went much further in Nagapattinam, about 150 kms to the south], but if something like this happens again and they do go that far, it could be a disaster. If the effluents there leak out, marine life across the coast would be devastated. It would be a massive environmental disaster.”

Krishnan explains that the great disaster was forestalled because of scientific planning. When asked if Kalpakkam was absolutely safe after the tsunami, he replied, “It is safe. I visited the plant site two days after the tsunami hit us. Water had come in some places but it had just wet the ground. It didn’t enter the building, it came just outside it. There are two reactor units in the Madras Atomic Power Station at Kalpakkam. One unit was already shut down for maintenance and the other was operating and the sea water pump house of that unit had registered the higher level of water.” Adjacent to the Madras Atomic Power Station a new Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFDR) is under construction. It was inaugurated on October 23, 2004 by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and will ultimately generate 500 MWe. Krishnan: “To make such vital buildings withstand earthquakes, first a large concrete base mat is being built. So if the structure moves it will move all together without getting cracked. On the location of the fast breeder reactor they had dug up a huge area several metres below the ground level for the base mat. Sea water have flooded that place. Now, they will have to pump out the waters and start construction again.”

Several metres? Well Mr. Krishnan understates the depth of the crater. According to Prabhat Kumar, Project Director of the PFBR, “Work on excavating the sprawling raft (foundation), going down to a depth of 18 metres, has been completed. On this common foundation will come up eight important buildings that constitute the nuclear island. These buildings are to house the reactor, control room, and two steam generators and to store the fuel, and so on. The reactor building will be 73 metres tall from the foundation, and the buildings housing the steam generator will be 85 metres tall.” Mr. Kumar says that the construction of the raft was “the most challenging project both in terms of the technology to be deployed and the time of its completion”.

Hans Blix visited the Reactor Research Centre at Kalpakkam in December 1982 when he was Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Blix said, “Breeder technology is certainly one of the most advanced and difficult undertakings in nuclear power engineering. That India, relying almost exclusively on its own resources, is able to embark on a breeder programme, bears witness to its great accomplishments in science and the resourcefulness of its engineers.”The event marked the beginning of the second stage of India’s nuclear power programme. In an interview yesterday with The Hindu’s Business Line, Dr A. N. Prasad, former Director, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, says: “The present assessed reserves of commercially exploitable grade uranium ore in India can, at best, support a nuclear power generation of 10,000 MW, if natural uranium is used in thermal reactors on an once-through basis. However, if the plutonium produced in the uranium fuel is recovered and recycled as fresh fuel in fast breeder reactors, the electricity generation could be increased to about 350,000 MW.”

There’s virtually no sign of any interest, effort or demand to stop the alarming nuclear arms race that Canada launched between India and Pakistan. Everything here is all about the growth, expansion and massive development of India’s nuclear projects. In Pakistan it’s the same. Bush’s visit has got utterly nothing to do with reducing nuclear proliferation, and in fact will most certainly exacerbate this world’s dreadful march towards inevitable nuclear holocaust.

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Two Days After the Smiling Buddha

CBC Barbara Frum Interview with India UN Ambassador, Samar Sen

May 20, 1974

BF -Ambassador Sen, did India not violate some agreements with Canada in developing its atom bomb?

SS -India did not develop an atom bomb.

BF -What did it develop?

SS -India just exploded an atomic device, nothing to do with a bomb. It is just one of the processes which is necessary for using atomic energy. How did you get the idea for an atom bomb?

BF -What can you imagine that nuclear device being used for?

SS -Well, to be used for economic purposes. Does anybody deny us the process or the facilities or the technical knowhow of using whatever we can to grow more food, a little more comfortable, a little less hungry?

BF -Could that device not be used as a bomb?

SS -Of course it could be used as a bomb, but why should it be used as a bomb? Why voice this distrust?

BF -But why develop it at all?

SS -Because we have to have more food, more energy, obviously everybody knows that India is a very poor country.

BF -I believe your own Prime Minister described this as being a “peaceful bomb.” I think that turned up in the news.

SS -I haven’t seen the text, but I think she has made it quite clear that if she means by bomb, that it makes a lot of noise and explosion, then of course one could call it a bomb, but I think she has made it amply clear that this is to be used for peaceful purposes, for economic development.

BF -Well if that is so, Ambassador, why not sign the Non Proliferation Treaty?

SS -Because if we sign the Non Proliferation Treaty we cannot even do what we have done. We have already said we shall sign the Non Proliferation Treaty if everybody gives up any kind of, what you call, horrible weapons they have got, and everybody settles down to peaceful use of atomic energy, but the Non Proliferation Treaty was so discriminatory we could not accept it. But if everybody says that we shall give up atomic energy for destructive purposes, we shall be the first one to sign.

BF -All right Ambassador Sen, lets say that out of its Candu reactor, Pakistan now wanted to develop a peaceful bomb, what would you say then?

SS -Well, what does this mean, “peaceful bomb?” Can you explain that?

BF -What if they wanted to develop a peaceful nuclear device?

SS -If they were to develop a peaceful device which were to be used for peaceful exploitation of resources…

BF -So you would have no objection if Pakistan developed its own nuclear devices?

SS -If Pakistan, or any other country, including the USA or the USSR, or any other country wishes to find nuclear energy, or any other form of energy for exploiting its natural resources by peaceful means, then we are all for it.

BF -How would you control that it was, in fact, for peaceful purposes?

SS -Well, how has it been done so far? Has anyone controlled the USA or USSR or China, or Russia or anyone else?

BF -Ambassador Sen, thank you for talking to us.

SS -Thank you

BF -Bye bye

SS -Bye

(End Note: The late Barbara Frum was the mother of former GWB Neocon speechwriter David Frum, who coined the phrase “Axis of Evil.” Surely Frum could have taught this Moron how to pronounce “nuclear??!”)

INGMAR LEE writes from Pondicherry, India, slightly downwind from the Kalpakkam Nuclear Power Plant. He can be reached at