India - Plutonium Investigation n°10

Nuclear Proliferation

Starting from the 1960s, India has developed a clandestine parallel weapons programme while searching for assistance and collaboration from foreign countries for its civil programme.

The US notably supplied expertise and the design for the first reactors, as well as enriched uranium. In exchange, the US requested control over the decisions concerning the spent fuel. Heavy water (water in which the stable hydrogen in the H2O molecule is replaced by deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen) is required for the pressurised heavy water reactors.

Heavy water was not produced domestically at the beginning of the nuclear programme. It was first openly obtained from the Soviet Union. Some heavy water was also obtained illegally from Norway and from the FRG. Then India built its own heavy water producing capability with foreign assistance.

India refused to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968 on the grounds that it discriminated against non-nuclear weapons states. But, at the same time, Indian engineers were working on the weapons programme. The refusal to sign the NPT jeopardized further collaboration with western nuclear industries. The "peaceful" explosion in 1974 at Pokhran and its refusal to accept full-scope IAEA safeguards in 1977 further isolated India from foreign nuclear technology and equipment.

Repeatedly, different countries have imposed measures to try to slow or to counter the development of the weapons programme. The US administration has for instance banned companies from exporting equipment to different nuclear facilities. These actions have been decided in agreement with the US Non Proliferation Act, enacted in 1978. The US has also intervened at least once to put an end to nuclear technology cooperation with Brazil. At the beginning of the 1980s, the Carter administration also intervened to stop the French nuclear industry exporting a reprocessing plant, which would have made it easier for the Indians to produce plutonium for the military program.

France started to supply enriched uranium beginning in 1983 according to a tripartite agreement between India, the USA and France, after the USA suspended supplies because India had not signed the NPT or agreed to full-scope safeguards. France had previously provided assistance to technicians and engineers and installed two heavy water plants. France had also provided major support for the construction of the prototype fast-breeder reactor at Kalpakkam. In fact, the Kalpakkam design is supposedly close to the French prototype Rapsodie.

In January 1998, only months before the nuclear tests, French President Chirac himself called energy one of the priority areas of cooperation with India. He explicitly mentioned nuclear power and was accompanied during the official visit by the head of the French power plant supplier Framatome. After the Indian tests, France did not officially criticize the tests, and could hardly credibly have done so because of the many tests it carried out itself and in particular the highly controversial resumption of testing in 1995 just before signing the comprehensive test ban treaty (CTBT).

It is important to note that India has also developed inter-continental missile launchers, for instance the Agni missile, which are capable of transporting nuclear weapons.

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