Genesis of Nuclear Proliferation
by Adnan Gill
An open season has been declared on Pakistan in the wake of Doctor A Q Khan's bold confessions. It seems that Pakistan and its scientists are the first and only proliferators in the history of nuclear weaponry.Nuclear proliferation was born with the first set of nuclear weapons. Its a half century long saga of strategic maneuvering, clashes of ideologies, espionage, love, hate, deceit, back stabbing and personal greed.
History bears witness to the fact that there is nothing extraordinary, new or unique about Pakistan proliferating nuclear know-how, if at all. The United States started the tradition by gifting it to the UK and France. The rogue (socialist) elements in the UK and US exported the same technology to the Soviet Union, who in turn gave it away to countries like China and India. China in kind, passed it to Pakistan who is said to have kept the tradition alive by trying to pass it on to the Iran, Libya and N. Korea. India and Israel did their part by bringing South Africa and Brazil onboard.
For their share of proliferation the French passed the nuclear technology to Israel. Despite De Gaulle's opposition and direct orders to shut the technology pipeline built by Shimon Peres, his atomic energy minister Jacques Soustelle kept the transfer going on. Was Soustelle punished for going rogue and breaking the laws against the proliferation? Not that the world knows of.
If anything, it is the United States, which unintentionally, or otherwise, initiated the nuclear proliferation. The US was the first to let the nuclear genie out of the bottle, the rest merely followed in its footprints.
The US proliferation started even before the first nuclear device was ever detonated. It began when the US started to train the foreign scientists from Britain, Canada and France in the art of “Atomic Bomb” making during the Manhattan project. The fear of expansion of communism right after the WWII was so intense, that the US started to pass the nuclear technology willy-nilly to its friends under the garb of a program called “Atoms for Peace”. To this day the world has not been able to recover from this massive US proliferation.
At times the US looked the other way when its friends were building the nuclear network, and even pretended like nothing happened when its spy satellites detected an atmospheric nuclear explosion over the Indian Ocean on September 22, 1979. The episode was swept under the rug because there was a strong possibility that it was one of the American allies who conducted the test, namely Israel.
The recent transfer of simulation software to France enabled it to check the health of its nuclear weapons without detonating one is an example of American proliferation. A pledge to cooperate with India in the dual use nuclear and space technology is only the latest example the American proliferation.
Though the United States merits the dubious distinction of being the original proliferator, it was soon joined by a host of other wannabes. Following is a brief history of international proliferation, the actors involved and the end results.
Soviet Union/Russia: Despite the fact that great Soviet minds such as Yakov Zel'dovich and Yuli Khariton were already tinkering with the nuclear technology even before the WWII started, the Russians were still far from crossing the threshold. It took no less than complete design and data of American nuclear weapon supplied by the “Atom Spies” like Klaus Fuchs and Rosenbergs to detonate its first nuclear device four years after the United States.
Outcome of proliferation: The Soviets detonated their first nuclear device on August 29, 1949.
Britain: The British program directly benefited from the American “Manhattan Project” when its first rank scientists like Geoffrey I. Taylor and William G. Penney were sent to Los Alamos under the cover of 1943 Quebec Agreement. These American trained British scientists provided the nucleus for British post-war atomic weapons development efforts.
Thanks to the Quebec Agreement, Canada supplied plutonium was incorporated into the core of first British nuclear device, code-named Hurricane.
Outcome of proliferation: Britain detonated its first device on September 15, 1952.
France: Just like the British scientist, the French scientists like Dr. Bertrand Goldschmitt also worked with the Anglo-Canadian team on the Manhattan Project. After the war, he continued the weapons work in France and gave it its nuclear weapon.
Outcome of proliferation: The first French nuclear test, code-named Gerboise Bleue, was conducted on February 13, 1960 at Reggane in Algeria.
China: China was never a direct beneficiary of American proliferation, but it made tremendous gains from the blatant Soviet proliferation. In 1951 Peking signed a secret agreement with Moscow through which China received massive Soviet nuclear assistance in exchange uranium ores.
In 1957, China and USSR signed an agreement on new technology for national defense, which included additional Soviet nuclear assistance. The Soviets also provided China with a major gaseous diffusion facility for production of enriched uranium.
Outcome of proliferation: China's first nuclear test was conducted at Lop Nor on October 16, 1964.
India: India is a prime example of American initiated nuclear proliferation under the cover of “Atoms for Peace” program. During the 1950s and then in 1960s the United States and Canada helped India to lay the foundation for its nuclear weapons technology.
In 1956, Canada built 40 megawatt Canadian-Indian Reactor in India. The United States supplied the heavy water for it. This reactor will later become the source of plutonium for India's first nuclear device.
In 1963, India ordered two 210-megawatt boiling-water reactors for the Tarapur Atomic Power Station from General Electric.
India received its first heavy water production plant from Germany in 1962 and then built additional seven heavy water plants with help of France and Switzerland.
The United States continued to display a total disregard for all of non-proliferation conventions. In 1964, its assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs John McNaughton proposed to initiate a program to train and equip Indian forces to use nuclear weapons, and create a stockpile to disperse to India in times of crisis.
In 70s, the Soviet Union assumed the role of India's main supplier of heavy water, and covert and overt nuclear proliferation. During the 80s, India clandestinely acquired and developed centrifuge technology from the USSR and built uranium enrichment plants at Trombay and Mysore.
During the same decade, a German exporter and a former Nazi, Alfred Hempel shipped tons of heavy water via Dubai to India. This clandestine supply enabled the Indians to use its reactors like Dhruva to create plutonium for its atomic weapons program. The suppliers of heavy water included China, Norway and Soviet Union.
In January 1996, in a barefaced show of defiance of a “Nuclear Suppliers Group” ban, Moscow and New Delhi, reached an agreement to build two Russian light-water nuclear reactors at Kudankalam in Tamil Nadu.
Outcome of proliferation: India conducted its first so-called “peaceful nuclear explosion,” on May 18 1974.
Israel: France laid the foundation of Israeli nuclear program on October 3, 1957, when it signed an agreement to build a 24 MWt reactor (although the cooling systems and waste facilities were designed to handle three times that power), and a chemical reprocessing plant in Israel. A secret nuclear complex was constructed outside the IAEA inspection regime, at Dimona, in the Negev desert under the leadership of Col. Manes Pratt of the IDF Ordinance Corps. France not only built a nuclear and reprocessing plant for Israel, it also supplied the heavy water and delivered Uranium for the Israeli plant. The plant went critical in 1964.
Since 1958, the United States had been well aware of the Israel nuclear program, but it did nothing to stop it. Walworth Barbour, US ambassador to Israel from 1961-73, allegedly said at one point that “The President did not send me there to give him problems. He does not want to be told any bad news.” After the 1967 war, Barbour even put a stop to military attachés' intelligence collection efforts around Dimona. When in 1966, the US embassy staff sent a warning message to Washington upon learning that Israel was beginning to put nuclear warheads on its missiles, the message disappeared in thin air and was never acted upon.
Outcome of proliferation: Israel is speculated to be in possession of between 100 to 200 nuclear weapons, and in 1979 is suspected to have conducted a nuclear explosion over the southern Indian Ocean in collaboration with South Africa.
South Africa: Israel introduced South Africa to the exclusive nuclear weapons club. Israel provided South Africa with technical assistance on its weapons program, in exchange for S. Africa's 300 tons of uranium. “Oppenheimer of Israel” Ernst David Bergmann and several other Israeli nuclear scientists visited South Africa in 1967.
In 1974, Moshe Dayan is reported to have made a secret visit to South Africa and discussed nuclear weapon cooperation, including the possibility of nuclear tests.
Between 1977 and 1978 Israel received 50 tons of natural uranium from South Africa and in return supplied 30 grams of tritium, in 12 separate shipments. Israel is also believed to have provided the bomb design.
Outcome of proliferation: Till July 1990, South Africa was in possession of six nuclear devices as well as the partially completed seventh device.
Argentina: Argentina's nuclear program was supported by a number of countries. Canada and West Germany supplied the power reactors, while China and Switzerland supplied a heavy water plant. The Soviet Union supplied other nuclear equipment. In the absence of international safeguards, hot cells were operated from 1969-1972.
Outcome of proliferation: Argentina came stones throw away from building a nuclear device, as a number of sites and facilities were developed for uranium mining, milling, and conversion, and for fuel fabrication. A missile development program was also pursued for some years.
Brazil: The US proliferation to Brazil goes way back to the 1940s when it signed an agreement to transfer the nuclear technology in exchange for cooperative mining of uranium and monazite. In 1965, the US provided Brazil with medium-grade enriched uranium for its first nuclear reactor.
In 1975, Brazil signed a technology transfer agreement with Germany (not covered under the IAEA safeguards) for a complete nuclear fuel cycle, including enrichment and reprocessing plants. The agreement called for West Germany to transfer eight nuclear reactors, uranium enrichment facility, plutonium reprocessing plant, and Becker “jet nozzle” enrichment technology.
Outcome of proliferation: Brazilian nuclear weapons program code-named “Solimões” was exposed by the members of CPI (Comissão Parlamentar de Inquérito). In its report it was revealed that the IEAV (Instituto de Estudos Avançados) had designed two atomic bomb devices, one with a yield of twenty to thirty kilotons and a second with a yield of twelve kilotons. In September 1990, a nuclear test shaft was closed at Cachimbo, in Pará State.
Iraq: Iraqi nuclear weapons program's root are also traced back to the American “Atoms for Peace” program and to the Soviet supplied research reactor - the 2 megawatt IRT-5000, which was later upgraded to 5 MW in 1978.
In 1976, Iraq and France concluded an agreement for MTR reactors. MTR reactor was a derivative of the French Osiris reactor which was a pool-type reactor fuelled by 93% enriched weapon grade uranium.
In 1979, Iraq sent engineers to visit India's nuclear establishments and scientists.
During the same year, Iraq contracted with the Italian company SNIA-Techint for pilot plutonium separation and handling facility, and a uranium refining and fuel-manufacturing plant (not covered by IAEA safeguards).
Iraq also obtained large amounts of uranium - 100 tons of natural uranium from Portugal, and additional large shipments from Brazil and Nigeria.
During 1998 and 2001, an Indian company, NEC Engineers shipped several consignments of rocket fuel ingredients to Iraq via Dubai.
Outcome of proliferation: On behest of the IAEA, a group of nuclear weapon designers from the United States, Britain, France, and Russia met in April 1992 to assess the progress of Iraq's nuclear program prior to the Persian Gulf War. The group suggested Iraq's nuclear weapons program plan was established in 1988. Iraq's objective was to produce its first nuclear by 1991.
Those who view Pakistan's amateurish attempts at nuclear proliferation as unique or as a new phenomenon either harbor malice in their hearts or are selectively oblivious of history of nuclear proliferation. Their attempt is as spiteful as it is deliberate.
If the world community is really interested in finding the real nuclear proliferators, then it has to look no further than looking at the two superpowers. The Americans initiated the nuclear proliferation, while the Soviet Union setup the one stop nuclear superstore.
A parting word on pardons too. In the name of extraordinary services, the history is full of famous personalities going scot-free for their clear disregard of laws. For example, despite Oppenheimer's open association with the Communists, he was allowed to run the nuclear program till 1953. Eventually, he was quietly sidelined for his Communist associations, but only after he gave the US its nuclear bombs. Shouldn't the hush hush sidelining of a diehard Communist spy and a true “father of the Atomic Bomb” be called a “mother of all Pardons”?
How about Casper Weinberger receiving the pardon and a “Medal of Freedom” for the breakup of the communist block despite his utter disregard for the US laws, and his clear role in the Iran-Contra deals?
Lets not even talk about President Clinton pardoning the drug runners and other criminals, because it's beyond any logic and reason.
Last but not the least, how about President Gerald Ford pardoning Richard Nixon for making a mockery of the US constitution and laws?
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is any way so discriminatory that it was rightly called as “disarming the unarmed”. Those moralizing to Pakistan are well advised to do some honest soul searching.
Pakistan is only a window to the Nuclear Proliferating World, but certainly not the door to it.
More articles by Adnan Gill