Briefing notes say even though safeguards changed, non-proliferation policy would still be achieved.
After a major Canadian uranium mining firm landed deals with Chinese state-owned enterprises, the Harper government met several times with the firm and then announced a new protocol to ship raw Canadian uranium directly to China—even though it knew the protocol’s safeguards could be perceived as “weak,” government documents show.
Nuclear disarmament advocates fear the new scheme is an example of commerce driving policy in Ottawa. They say it could set a precedent that countries can establish workarounds to international nuclear security standards if the status quo was seen to be restricting potential trade.
“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 at Waterloo-based Project Ploughshares.
But Canada says the deal with China will ensure Canadian uranium is used only for “strictly peaceful, non-military purposes” and that the new requirements are “appropriate to the level of the proliferation risks involved.” The Chinese Embassy also assured Canadians that its nuclear facilities are safe and under control.
‘Isn’t this rather weak?’
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.
According to briefing notes prepared for Trade Minister Ed Fast and recently released to Embassy under access to information law, the alterations to that agreement gave Canada a new option to fulfill its nuclear non-proliferation policy in a novel way.
Canada’s policy, as outlined in the briefing notes, has held that nuclear material shipped to nuclear-armed states must only be held in facilities named in a special list that the state had agreed to with the International Atomic Energy Agency. But the briefing notes show Canada 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 solution, the briefing note indicated, was to permit the export to such banned sites, under a new protocol that would allow China instead to “provide additional reporting to Canada on the uranium.”
China would then “notify Canada when the uranium is moved to another facility” where the normal rules would apply.
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