The Conservative government opened the way in 2012 for a major Canadian uranium mining company to export raw uranium to China by changing longstanding nuclear non-proliferation rules to ones described by the government’s own report as “weak” (Carl Meyer, “Canada knew nuclear deal with China could be seen as ‘weak’: Docs,” Embassy, 16 April 2014):
Lured by the world’s fastest-growing market for uranium, with 28 new reactors under construction in China, and driven by an explicit desire to bolster the “international activities” of Saskatoon-based Cameco Corporation, one of the world’s largest uranium producers, the government agreed in 2012 to alter its nuclear co-operation agreement with its second-largest trading partner.
The new deal, which Cameco says kicked in Jan. 1, 2013, has already seen at least one Canadian uranium concentrate shipment to China, last October.
Nuclear disarmament advocates warn that the Canadian move will establish a precedent for other countries to circumvent international nuclear security standards if and when those standards impede potential sales.
“Commercial interests, as important as they are, must be shaped and constrained by non-proliferation considerations,” said Cesar Jaramillo, program officer for space security and nuclear disarmament for Project Ploughshares.
According to briefing notes prepared for Trade Minister Ed Fast and released to Embassy, Canada’s original position was that nuclear materials transferred to nuclear-weapons states could only be stored in facilities previously placed under International Atomic Energy Agency monitoring.
The briefing notes, however, show the government knew China “wants to process or ‘convert’ Canadian uranium in a conversion facility in China that has NOT been placed on its ‘Voluntary Offer’ Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA.”
The government’s solution was to allow the export to the forbidden sites, as long as China provides “additional reporting to Canada on the uranium.”
The briefing notes present several anticipated questions about the new policy, including one that asks: “the additional verification mechanism comprises only administrative reports to [the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission]. Isn’t this rather weak?”
Jaramillo is worried that we are witnessing a “downward trend” in non-proliferation standards. He questions why the policy does not use more assertive language when discussing the consequences of non-compliance. The notes state that Canada “could” suspend or terminate the deal, rather than making compliance an imperative and establishing a clear trigger for trade suspension.
Shawn-Patrick Stensil, an energy and climate campaigner with Greenpeace Canada, links this deal to another recent nuclear deal with India, another nuclear-armed state.
“We’ve now been moving to selling uranium to markets that have bomb programs, and our non-proliferation policy is dying a death by a thousand cuts” he says.
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