You are here

Clearwater Dene First Nation

Cameco signs uranium contract with India

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

A uranium supply contract was signed by Cameco and India's Department of Atomic Energy on April 15. Under the contract Cameco will supply 7.1 million pounds of uranium concentrate (about 2,730 tonnes of uranium) from 2015−2020, all of it sourced from Cameco's Canadian mines. The contract is worth around US$286 million at current spot prices.1 The two countries signed a Nuclear Cooperation Agreement in 2010 and it entered into force in September 2013.

The uranium supply agreement, and the bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement, have attracted widespread criticism.

Cameco's uranium operations in Saskatchewan are facing opposition from the Clearwater Dene First Nation. A group called Holding the Line Northern Trappers Alliance has been camping in the area to block companies from further exploratory drilling in their territory. The group set up camp in November 2014 and plans to remain until mining companies leave. Spokesperson Candyce Paul said she was opposed to Cameco's uranium deal with India and that "scientific evidence is building towards proving that the uranium mining industry is killing the Indigenous people of northern Saskatchewan."2

The uranium supply contract was criticised by delegates to the World Uranium Symposium held in Quebec City from April 14−16. Shri Prakash, one of several participants from India at the Symposium, said: "India's nuclear weapons program is very active, as demonstrated by a series of nuclear test explosions. Moreover tensions between India and Pakistan, a country with its own nuclear arsenal, are running very high. The attitude of Canada is irresponsible and alarming."3

Just hours after the uranium supply contract was signed, India test-fired a nuclear-capable Agni-III ballistic missile.4

Paul Meyer, a former Canadian representative to the UN Disarmament Conference, said: "All of this flows from decisions where we essentially sold the shop some years back, sacrificing our nuclear non-proliferation principles and objectives for some other considerations, and I think it's been a very poor deal for us in terms of the risks of nuclear proliferation. ... There was a capitulation in 2008 to essentially give India all of the benefits of membership in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, without any of its obligations or responsibilities."4

Meyer summarised Canada's capitulation on safeguards tracking standards in a November 2012 article: "India bristled at the suggestion that this little, non-nuclear weapon state should presume to exercise any form of oversight over its nuclear activity. After a few rounds of talks failed to produce an agreement and as the dates for the prime minister's trip approached, it would appear the CNSC [Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission] team was instructed to cut a deal."5

Trevor Findlay, a senior research fellow at Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and a member of the UN Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters, said: "Normally there's some sort of tracking and accounting system so that Canada would be receiving information from India very specifically about what Canada-sourced material is being used for. In this case, because the agreement is secret, we have no idea whether that's in place, and it probably isn't because the Indians have been pushing against that."4

Australian nuclear arms control expert Crispin Rovere noted in a 2014 paper: "As with the proposed Australia–India nuclear agreement, the text of the Canadian deal likewise abrogates the widely accepted principle that the nuclear recipient is accountable to the supplier. This is ironic given it was nuclear material diverted from a Canadian-supplied reactor that led to the India's break-out in the first place. It would be like the citizens of Hiroshima deciding it would be a good idea to host American nuclear weapons within the city – the absurdity is quite astonishing. The good news is that Canada's deal has earned the Harper government pariah status with regard to nuclear safeguards."6

Assoc. Prof. Greg Koblentz from the School of Policy Government and International Affairs at George Mason University said that even if Canadian uranium is used only for civilian purposes, "whatever uranium India produces domestically will now be freed up for a military program." He added: "There's been a tremendous amount of effort invested in preventing Iran from obtaining one nuclear weapon, but this has really left the arms race in South Asia unchecked."4

Asked if he shares concerns about the potential for Canadian uranium to free up India's domestic uranium for weapons production, Malcolm Bernard from the Canadian Nuclear Association said: "Those concerns are legitimate and we share them. Everybody should."7

Trevor Findlay commented on the broader implications of the inadequate provisions of the bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement: "Countries with existing agreements will say, 'We want the same deal as India. Why should we be supplying all this information to Canada when India doesn't.' And India is a nuclear weapons states. Most of the other receivers are non-nuclear weapons states and they're being treated less favourably than India."7