Friday, July 27, 2007

Interview with Leonor Tomero on U.S.-India Nuclear Deal

Today I had a chance to talk with Leonor Tomero, Director of Nuclear Non-Proliferation at the Center, about the U.S.-India Agreement for Nuclear Cooperation. India and the United States have completed negotiations on the agreement after months of haggling over fine print. Leonor provides a great explanation of the current status of the deal, and what it means for nuclear weapons nonproliferation efforts.

You can get the low-down on Congress' reaction to the U.S.-India deal from intern-extraordinaire at the Center, Max Postman, who wrote on the topic earlier today.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This post aims to get a handle on:

1. India’s uranium and plutonium tradeoffs

2. the lack of influence of future Australian Uranium sales over India’s nuclear weapon stocks and

3. the problems an Australia-India nuclear deal will cause any future Australian Labor Party (Rudd) government.

Most of the information here is based on comments provided (or websites located) by an esteemed (yet modest) nuclear and missile expert "Anonymous". I have to admit that I know less about nuclear power or weapon physics than other areas so if Anonymous or others want to suggest any corrections I'd be happy to consider them.

Australia on Tuesday July, 31 2007 promised to support the Indo-US civil nuclear deal in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and indicated its readiness to supply uranium to India.

This was conveyed by Australian Foreign Minister Downer to Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee during a meeting in Manila when the recently-concluded Indo-US civil nuclear deal came up for discussion among other issues.

Previously, Canberra had reservations on supplying uranium to India as India is not a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The 45-nation NSG is required to modify by consensus its guidelines to allow the international community to have civil nuclear trade with India.

Australia, known to have the one of largest reserves of uranium, said it would extend cooperation by supplying the nuclear fuel as and when India finalises safeguards agreement with International Atomic Energy Agency.

Downer told Mukherjee that the Australian Cabinet will meet soon to take a decision on exporting uranium to India.

Downer separately told Australian journalists that the two leaders discussed the Indo-US civil nuclear deal and he congratulated New Delhi on the agreement.

"I said with this agreement now having been initiated, of course, it has ratification processes to go through, that we will begin to look at this whole question of exporting uranium to India," Downer was quoted as saying by the Australian media.

1. and 2. Weapons over Nuclear Power Generation

Problem - If Australia did not sell Uranium to India, would this limit the existing Indian weapons nuclear program or, at least, influence India's weapons decisions?

Arun Sharma et al have done an analysis of Indian Uranium mining.

Sharma advises:

1. Indian strategic nuclear weapons use approximately 3 Kg Plutonium.

2. India has large un-safeguarded Plutonium stockpile (conservatively estimated to between 3,000 Kg and 6,000Kg), a fraction of that will suffice to make hundreds of nuclear weapons if India choose to exercise the option.

3. Indian pressurised heavy water reactor (PHWR) reactors that are outside IAEA safeguard [and have received sufficient Uranium to convert into?] about 2,400Kg weapon grade Plutonium - enough for 800 strategic nuclear weapons.

4. Current Indian reserves of Uranium are estimated between 77,500 – 94,000 tonnes, enough to support 12,000 MWe power generation for 50 years.

5. Current Indian PHWR reactors that are outside IAEA safeguard annually require 116 tonnes of natural-uranium when operated in a mode optimized for power generation. When operated in a mode optimized to generate weapon-grade Plutonium they require just 747 tonnes of natural-uranium annually, in the process they generate 745 Kg weapon grade Plutonium, which is enough for 248 nuclear weapons per year.

From the figures above one can clearly see that there is no merit in the argument that supplies of Uranium from Australia, Canada or even the US and Russia will be of any consequence to Indian nuclear weapons programs.

It seems India has mined much more Uranium [in India at a rate higher than consumption for power production] in its 20 power reactors or in its two (weapons grade) plutonium production reactors.

If there was ever a desire to restrict the amount of Uranium used in the weapon’s program to service power needs this is being further offset by (at least) two influences:

Supercritical centrifuges for Uranium enrichment - Albright et al have discovered that India is now producing carbon fiber supercritical centrifuges for Uranium enrichment. It may already have the capacity to make all the weapons grade Uranium it needs. Thus regardless of Canadian or Australian Uranium sales, the Indian weapons production will be unconstrained.

Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (BFBR) - According to Glaser about 150 kg of weapons grade Plutonium will be generated annually in the blankets of the Indian prototype Fast Breeder Reactor. Assuming 5 kg per pit (machining losses etc).

That is 30 bombs per year in addition to existing capacity (from Dhruva and 8 CANDU units - CIRUS reactor is to be shut down to placate Canada)

The Tellis report (Atoms for War, Carnegie Endowment, 2006) is particularly interesting (but long). He estimates
- 45kg of weapons grade Plutonium per each of the eight unsafeguarded 220 MWe CANDU reactors if 1/4 core load is used for low burnup.

Based on this Anonymous has made the following estimates:

- assuming India used just 1/8 core loads (less effect on power production) the 8 CANDU reactors would produce 180 kg of weapons grade Pu per year. The power losses could be made up with two thermal (coal fired) power plants.

- add 30 kg from Dhruva,

- and the 150 kg from the PFBR, then:

India can produce a total of 360 kg of Plutonium per year (enough for 72 pits assuming 5 kg required including milling losses). The Indian Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) wants to replace CIRRUS with a bigger version of Dhruva so additional Pu would be available.

Based on the figues Anonymous estimates that India will have the capacity for 72 thermonuclear devices (hydrogen bombs) a year, using just a fraction of India's indigenous Uranium ore (this means no foreign Uranium directly used).

3. Agreement With India Will Create Problems for Rudd

Nuclear issues always cause problems for the Australian Labor Party (ALP) led by Kevin Rudd)) mentioned previously in an earlier post on the possibility of Australian Uranium Enrichment.

If Australia were to export Uranium to India it will need to negotiate a nuclear safeguard agreement to govern the uses to which Australian uranium can be put.

If the Howard Government proceeds along these lines before the election it will create some difficulties for Kevin Rudd and the ALP. If Rudd maintains ALP opposition to uranium sales to India he will face political trouble from pro-Indian Australians and from the mining industry. But if Rudd is elected with the anti-uranium policy intact and he pursues the policy in government, he will have to repudiate an agreement, at least in principle, to supply India with uranium.

Moreover, if the US-India nuclear deal is ratified by both nations' parliaments, it will inevitably win broad international acceptance. A Rudd Labor government would thus be left in the ludicrous position of defending ground that everyone else has long since abandoned.

Further Comment

If Sharma's figures are correct, India has far more weapons grade Plutonium than has been previously estimated, more than it would (ever need even if India seeks nuclear parity with its large enemy - China).

Several Indian reactors are now operating at low capacity due to a shortage of uranium (it will take a few years for the new Uranium mines to begin production) yet India's weapons programs has not visibly been effected. So it seems India is prepared to divert much of its uranium for weapons uses at the expense of civilian nuclear power uses.

So if there were any overall shortage of Uranium India would choose to burn its high sulphur coal for power in preference to limiting Uranium available for weapons.

Hence any denial of Australian Uranium may simply increase greenhouse gas emissions in India. In any case India always has alternate sources of Uranium (even if at higher prices) including the US, Canada and Russia.

I think that if a (centre-right leaning) Rudd Labor Government came to power (the election may be in November 2007 or before) the interests of Uranium mining companies and mine workers would prevail. Rudd would maintain a Uranium sales to India agreement . But Rudd may well renegotiate for strengthened safeguards (some effect but not onerous) clauses to placate Australian environmental and anti-proliferation concerns.