By Muhammad Umer
In an effort to promote nuclear technology for peaceful purposes during the 1950s, Canada in partnership with the US supplied India with a commercial nuclear reactor to generate electricity, suitably named the Canadian-Indian Reactor, US (CIRUS).
A few years later, Canada and Pakistan entered into a similar agreement for a commercial Canadian Deuterium reactor that would provide much needed electricity to the port city of Karachi, named the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (Kanupp-I).
The only difference in the agreement for these commercial reactors was that Kanupp was placed under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards, whereas CIRUS was not. Having IAEA safeguards in place essentially means that there is a system of inspection and verification of nuclear materials. This system is overseen by the IAEA to ensure accountability of all nuclear materials to make certain that it is not diverted elsewhere.
Canada and the US failed to demand that India place CIRUS under IAEA safeguards, in fact there was absolutely no monitoring mechanism in place for the CIRUS reactor. Taking advantage of the fact that there was no strict scrutiny of CIRUS, the Indians diverted nuclear fuel provided to them by the Americans for peaceful purposes, and built a nuclear bomb – massively proliferating. The Indians successfully tested this nuclear bomb on May 18, 1974.
In response to this, Canada and the US pulled out of all nuclear agreements with India and Pakistan, fearing further proliferation. In addition, both Canada and the US spearheaded the creation of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, an export control group designed to restrict the trade of nuclear materials – in an effort to stop future nuclear proliferation.
Pakistan had done nothing wrong, it was India that proliferated – but both were punished. The suspension of all nuclear-related agreements by 1976 meant no more nuclear fuel, nuclear related supplies, or operational assistance for Pakistan’s nuclear reactors, which at the time were Kanupp-1 and the American-supplied Pakistan Atomic Research Reactor (PARR-1).
The American sanctions did not create any problems for India because they continued to receive assistance from the Soviet Union, which allowed them to resume normal operations. But Pakistan did not have the same kind of foreign assistance available to it, and was left completely on its own.
Faced with this new reality the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission began developing an indigenous system to keep both PARR-1 and Kanupp-1 operational. In 1977, the PAEC established the Pakistan Nuclear Power Fuel Complex to produce and supply nuclear fuel for the nuclear power plants so they could remain in operation.
In addition the PAEC also began making its own spare parts and other nuclear components, as they were required. Even though Pakistan was not obligated to do so, it kept all of its civilian nuclear activities under IAEA safeguards – and for the last 40 years the country has been independently, successfully and safely operating nuclear power plants.
In the last four decades, Pakistan has proven its technological aptitudes and that it is a mature responsible nuclear power. The international community has praised Pakistan’s nuclear regulatory framework, as well as the safety and security apparatuses in place. The country is committed to non-proliferation and for that reason has established numerous measures to strengthen export control and security.
Because Pakistan has accomplished so much in this field, its government has officially applied for NSG membership, which will be deliberated on later this week at the NSG plenary in Seoul, South Korea.
Pakistan plans to invest heavily in nuclear energy in the immediate future to address its growing energy needs. The country is not able to meet its current demands for power, and this has harmed its economy and devastated its people.
There is a genuine need for power generation in Pakistan. For this reason it is vital that NSG member states admit Pakistan into the nuclear trade group. If Pakistan is kept out of the group it will be very difficult for the country to purchase nuclear reactors, components and fuel, which it desperately needs to meet its energy goals.
The international community will also benefit greatly if Pakistan is made a member of the NSG. The country already contributes to international nuclear research: it was recently granted Associate Member status at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). Pakistan’s Centre for Nuclear Excellence in partnership with the IAEA also already serves as the regional and international hub for nuclear security training.
The international community can take advantage of Pakistan’s advanced fuel cycle capability. If granted membership, Pakistan will be able to offer its nuclear fuel cycle services under IAEA safeguards to all interested states.
Pakistan has been punished long enough for the mistakes of its neighbour. All the civil nuclear facilities in Pakistan are under IAEA safeguards and country has always honoured its international obligations – unlike India. This is a fact that the international community already appreciates. It is now time for them to officially recognise Pakistan for its accomplishments and capabilities by voting to admit it into the NSG as a member state.
The writer is an assistant professor at NUST in Islamabad. Twitter: @umarwrites.