After an absence of 40 years, Canada is once again selling uranium to India. The deal is a good one for Saskatoon-based Cameco Corp., which has won a lucrative five-year contract to supply more than seven million pounds of uranium concentrate to one of the few major countries intent on expanding its nuclear generating capacity.
It's also a good deal for India, which has been on a mission to restore normal trade in nuclear fuel and technology after a decades-long embargo imposed by Canada and other supplier countries.
The sanctions were a response to India's unauthorized use of Canadian uranium to produce weapons-grade plutonium in the 1970s.
When Ottawa agreed in 1956 to build India's first nuclear reactor, one of the conditions was that it would be used for "peaceful purposes." Other reactor orders followed in the 1960s, by which time India had embarked on a secret plan to join the tiny nuclear-weapons club, using spent fuel from the Canadian reactors.
Ottawa was naive to accept the Indian pledge, which came with no requirements for inspections or controls – and learned a valuable lesson. It has coloured the Western view of Iran's own nuclear ambitions.
If you fail to take strict measures at the outset to prevent the misuse of such powerful technology, then you are stuck with the consequences. Like India before it, Iran has long insisted its nuclear aims are strictly peaceful. Canada learned the hard way that there is no putting the nuclear-arms genie back in the bottle once it's out.
On May 18, 1974, India exploded an atomic bomb, leading Ottawa and Washington to impose the trade curbs and spawning the creation of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which joined in the embargo and now numbers 48 countries.
The restrictions were eased in 2008, after New Delhi reached a deal with Washington to continue a moratorium on tests and to accept conditions set by the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure imports would not be diverted to its weapons program.
But a U.S. demand to monitor the use of materials purchased from other countries proved a sticking point that wasn't removed until this past January, which also paved the way for Ottawa, whose own nuclear co-operation agreement with New Delhi took effect in 2013, to resume uranium sales.
India is a lucrative market, because it doesn't produce nearly enough uranium to keep its 17 reactors running and has been relying for the bulk of its supply on Russia and Kazakhstan. The more competition the lower its tab. And it has an ambitious plan to expand nuclear capacity to meet about 25 per cent of its burgeoning electricity needs by mid-century.
India has never publicly apologized for its duplicity in using Canadian technology to become a nuclear-weapons power. For Canada, it was a painful lesson in realpolitik. Both have moved past it in the interest of wider goals. Given that the genie long ago escaped, it's the right decision – and a cautionary tale.