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Smiling Buddha

Nuke Power, "The Bomb" & Closer to Midnight by Michael Welch

On May 18, 1974, a decade after all nuclear and many non-nuclear states signed the Limited Test Ban Treaty, India exploded its first nuclear bomb in what their government called a "peaceful nuclear explosion," and established the country among nine other "nuclear" states.

Behind the Smiling Buddha

The knowledge, reactor, supplies, and other equipment needed to make the fissionable nuclear materials for the Smiling Buddha, a 12-kiloton bomb, were provided to India under the U.S. "Atoms for Peace" nonproliferation program that was launched in the mid-1950s. Despite the program's required assurances that nuclear technologies would be used only for peaceful purposes and not for military purposes, India developed "the bomb." Since then, India has exploded at least five more nuclear weapons. While the exact numbers are unknown, India likely has a nuclear arsenal of about 60 bombs, and enough refined nuclear materials to make many more.

India also has a very aggressive nuclear-powered electricity program. They have 10 operating nuke plants, with six under construction. Powerful politicians and other leaders are strong promoters of an increased use of nuclear energy, and view it as a necessity for India's development into an international economic power. Others view the push toward nuclear power as weakening India, in that too much capital investment is required. In any case, India's nuclear reactors have been operating far below capacity because nuclear fuel has been difficult to obtain. There is Indian uranium to be mined, but the content in the ore is so low that it is difficult and expensive to extract and process into nuclear fuel.

Normally, a nuclear state like India would have no problem getting uranium for its reactors from other countries. But India has refused to sign the nuclear arms Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and is only one of three countries that has refused to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. It continues to ignore public calls for nuclear disarmament, and refuses to accept International Atomic Energy Agency

safeguards. Because of this, the rest of the nuclear world has been refusing to sell uranium and other nuclear materials to India.

A New Deal Dawning

But the nuclear materials restriction has come to an end. Despite India's well-known record for turning nuclear power into nuclear weapons and its refusal to participate in international nuclear controls, the 45-country Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) has approved a special exemption from its rules so that nuclear materials can again be supplied to India. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also has given their approval.

Ironically, the NSG was originally established as a reaction to India's inappropriate use of nuclear materials, and its stated purpose is to "ensure that nuclear trade for peaceful purposes does not contribute to the proliferation of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices." It aims to accomplish this "by providing the means whereby obligations to facilitate peaceful nuclear cooperation can be implemented in a manner consistent with international nuclear nonproliferation norms."

The nuclear industry in the United States and other countries felt like it was missing a big opportunity in India. Indians were building their own reactors—rather than purchasing them from the established nuke industry—but were not able to build more as quickly as they would like. And they were mining their own uranium, rather than getting it from the industry. So efforts by both the Indians and the industry have been underway for years to influence President George W. Bush and Congress to allow nuclear trade with India.

In 2005, Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced an agreement intended to generate up to $100 billion in orders for nuclear giants like General Electric and Westinghouse. The agreement with the Bush administration did provide for a few, albeit fairly empty, concessions, including allowing the IAEA to inspect civilian nuclear power plants (not the ones that process weapons-grade nuclear materials) and the promise that India would not use uranium obtained from outside the country to make nuclear weapons (yeah, right).

Just before the end of its 2008 pre-election recess, Congress approved the pact that Bush and Singh worked out so that U.S. nuclear companies could participate in nuclear sales alongside other countries. Having received the green light before, non-U.S. nuclear companies were already clamoring for Indian business. France signed a deal for the nuke company Areva to deliver two reactors to India. Now U.S. nuke producers won't be far behind.

Moving Toward Midnight?

India is not the only nuclear nation that will be affected by this new agreement. Officials in Pakistan are outraged by the plan, since India and Pakistan are hostile to each other. Pakistan is also a nuclear state, and has built and exploded at least one nuclear weapon. The country has two nuclear power reactors and would like to have more. Pakistani leaders decry the favoritism for their enemy that is being shown by the U.S. government and other world powers. But they are concerned about enemies in other parts of the world, as well as the economic development that comes with energy supply, and are hoping that this new U.S.-India pact will set a precedent that will further open up nuclear energy and weapons access for them.

It is chilling that countries with governments even more secretive than our own and countries with poor environmental records and a lack of access to important safeguards are becoming so heavily invested in nuclear energy and weapons. The progressive peace and environmental movements have been so consumed by the Iraq war and human-caused climate issues that this move to reward corporate America at the expense of nuclear dangers and weapons proliferation has barely been a blip on the radar.

Most communities have organizations that are concerned about peace and disarmament issues. Having become focused on Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and other wars and hot spots in the world, they may welcome becoming informed on this


Minutes 'til Midnight?

Since 1947, the organization Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) has used a Doomsday Clock to symbolize figurative midnight, "how close humanity is to catastrophic destruction." Originally used to portray the level of risk from the nuclear arms race, the clock now "encompasses climate change and developments in life sciences that could inflict irreparable harm."

In 1953, the clock showed two minutes 'til midnight, reflecting the design and testing of the hydrogen bomb and the resulting escalation in the arms race. At the height of the U.S./U.S.S.R. Cold War in 1984, the clock read three minutes 'til midnight to represent the enormous nuclear arsenals of both superpowers. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, the clock hand retreated to 17 minutes until midnight, under the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which greatly reduced the number of strategic nuclear weapons.

Since then, however, the clock has continued to count down. In January 2007, the hand of the clock was moved from seven to five minutes until midnight, and the clock report read:

2007: The world stands at the brink of a second nuclear age. The United States and Russia remain ready to stage a nuclear attack within minutes, North Korea conducts a nuclear test, and many in the international community worry that Iran plans to acquire the Bomb. Climate change also presents a dire challenge to humanity. Damage to ecosystems is already taking place; flooding, destructive storms, increased drought, and polar ice melt are causing loss of life and property.

The new nuclear agreement with India hasn't yet affected the clock. Only time will tell.

and related issues. You can find out more about the nuclear power/weapons connections and India/Pakistan issues from Citizens' Nuclear Information Center (http://cnic.jp/ english), Beyond Nuclear (www.beyondnuclear.org), and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (www.thebulletin.org).


Michael Welch ([email protected]) has been working for a clean, safe, and just energy future since 1978 as a Redwood Alliance volunteer and with Home Power magazine since 1990. He looks forward to a world without nuclear weapons and waste—a clean and safe world of peace and sustainability.

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