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Sanctioning Nukes?

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Section: Foreign Policy Geography: East Asia North Korea Topics: Trudeau, nuclear

December 8, 2006

Sanctioning Nukes?

Canada's nuclear exports and the Korean conflict

by Stephen Salaff

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Pierre Trudeau speaking in September 1981 at the installation of AECL's Wolsung-1 Candu reactor in Kyong Sang Province of South Korea.
Pierre Trudeau speaking in September 1981 at the installation of AECL's Wolsung-1 CANDU reactor in Kyongsang Province in South Korea. Canada has officially opposed North Korea's development of nuclear weapons -- most recently, press reports speculated that Canadian naval vessels could play a role in enforcing sanctions against the country. Little thought has been given, however, to the role Canada's nuclear industry has played in the development of North Korea's bomb.

Media coverage of North Korea's nuclear tests has left out the ongoing sales of nuclear technology to South Korea by Canadian firms. Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) has supplied four reactors to Seoul's Korea Electric Power Development Corporation since 1973.

CANDU reactors manufactured in Ontario's Chalk River and Pembroke, and then marketed internationally, are much more efficient producers of (potentially weapons-grade) plutonium than competing models. Irradiated CANDU fuel can be extracted from the reactor during everyday operation, a convenience not offered by competing models.

In his 1988 semi-official history of AECL, University of Toronto History Professor Robert Bothwell relates that Canada's Trudeau Cabinet secretly approved AECL's commercial export of CANDU nuclear reactors in 1973.

Negotiations then began for the sale of CANDU reactors to Seoul's Korea Electric Power Corporation, which led to South Korea's second commercial nuclear power installation.

"In South Korea, as in Argentina, the military was never very far in the background; unlike Argentina, South Korea was [economically ascendant]," Bothwell writes.

For North Korea, nuclear exports were part of a series of provocative maneuvers made by the US and South Korea. The Pyongyang government criticized CANDU exports to South Korea for lowering South Korea's nuclear weapons acquisition threshold.

Pierre Trudeau paid an official visit to the Wolsung CANDU site in South Korea in September 1981 and spurred negotiations for additional CANDU reactors at Wolsung.

Three additional AECL CANDU units entered commercial operation at Wolsung between 1997and 1999. These exports temporarily boosted the faltering Canadian nuclear industry. In the summer of 1999, Ontario Hydro announced the long-term shutdown of numerous CANDU reactors at two generating stations for safety and performance reasons.

In 1985, Toronto Star columnist Diane Francis castigated briberies discovered in CANDU marketing to South Korea, Turkey and elsewhere. Direct AECL agents received a "finder's fee" of three to 10 per cent of reactor contract value. AECL deposited 10 per cent into a Luxemburg bank trust account for the agent's country contact.

AECL also exported CANDU research reactors to India and Taiwan.

India cooked the plutonium for its May 1974 Rajasthan nuclear weapons test in an AECL research reactor, whose sale was facilitated by Pierre Trudeau in a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

"With large taxpayer support, CANDU reactors have been exported to South Korea, Argentina, India, Pakistan, Romania and China," says Lynn Jones, a health professional and activist based in Pembroke, Ontario. Jones represents Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County, a group that campaigns against the health and nuclear proliferation risks of the nuclear industry in Pembroke and nearby Chalk River.

North Korea was distressed by delivery of proliferation-prone and risky nuclear equipment and technology into the hands of its rivals in Seoul. Officials in Pyongyang were also incensed at alleged US violations of Article 2d of the 27 July 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement, which was no more than a temporary ceasefire.

In a January 2003 statement reprinted by the Marxist-Leninist Daily, the North Korean government argued that, "Since the beginning of 1995, such [US] nuclear war exercises as Foal Eagle 95, Hoguk 906, Rimpac 98, 98 Hwarang and Ulji Focu Lens have been held against the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] almost every day, every year, on the ground, on the sea and in all parts of South Korea. In February 1997, the US brought depleted uranium shells from its base in Okinawa, Japan, into South Korea and deployed them."

In other cases, Canada's nuclear exports have attracted more attention from the media.

In March 2006, the Globe and Mail reported that, "Watchdog cleared tritium shipment to Iran." Referring to the highly controversial Pembroke nuclear manufacturer SRB Technologies Canada, the Globe reported: "The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission approved a shipment to Iran last year by a Canadian company of about 70,000 glow-in-the-dark lights containing tritium, a radioactive gas that can also be used as a component in hydrogen bombs."

Martin Mittelstaedt, the author of the Globe report, told the CBC on December 5 that Foreign Affairs in Ottawa was "extremely nervous" at SRB Technology's shipments of dual-use tritium to Iran.

Commercial CANDU reactors breed tritium, which Lynn Jones says is an agent of irreversible genetic damage, cancer, immune suppression and other pathologies.

According to Jones, the Globe report was based on correspondence between SRB Technologies and the Safety Commission obtained by her NGO through an Access to Information request with the Commission.

Jones told The Dominion that her Access to Information records reveal Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission approval of SRB's application on September 26, 2002, to export tritium-containing devices to "eight organizations in Korea."

Radiation-protection professional Rosalie Bertell, Biostatistician and retired President of the Toronto-based International Institute of Concern for Public Health, is one of many who oppose the proliferation of nuclear technology--in the North as in the South.

"After 50 years of US threats to use nuclear bombs in North Korea, and most recently calling them part of the 'axis of evil,' North Korea has joined the Asian nuclear club and holds South Korea and thousands of US military hostage to the same threat," said Bertell.

"We must disarm the five nuclear nations which started this competition in order to achieve global peace."

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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