CANDU or CANDON’T: Competing values behind Canada’s nuclear sales

Duane Bratt
The Nonproliferation Review
April 1, 1998


Duane Bratt is a lecturer in the Department of Economics and Political Science at Mount RoyalCollege(Calgary, Alberta, Canada). He has written several articles and newspaper editorials on Canada’s nuclear policy, including “Is Business Booming? Canada’s Nuclear Reactor Export Policy,” International Journal (Summer 1996) and “The Future of CANDU Exports,” Canadian Institute of Strategic StudiesStrategic Datalink (October 1997).

States often pursue contradic­tory policies internationally. On one level, states may seek to promote a good reputation for themselves by supporting interna­tional regimes. Yet, on another level, they may also seek to pursue nar­rower, self-interested policies for the benefit of their populations or do­mestic industry, thus calling into question the strength of their “inter­nationalist” commitments. Canada has been an active participant in many international security and non-proliferation regimes. It has played a leading role in a variety of inter­national peacekeeping operations; it provided innovative ideas (such as the “strengthened review” process) that led to the indefinite extension of the Treaty on the Non-Prolifera­tion of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in 1995; and it led the fight to create

an international treaty (the Ottawa Treaty) banning anti-personnel land mines in the fall of 1997. Despite these significant contributions to in­ternational security and nonprolif-eration efforts, however, Canada has also pursued narrower, self-inter­ested policies in its export of prolif­eration-risky Canadian Deuterium Uranium (CANDU) reactors. It has also frequently stretched its own en­vironmental laws to the limit in waiving restrictions on these exports to countries with questionable envi­ronmental safety records and capa­bilities.

This article examines the history of Canada’s CANDU reactor sales (see Figure 1) and the clash between Canada’s “internationalist” prin­ciples and its narrower domestic pri­orities. In doing so, the study makes the argument that the latter set of

domestic concerns has tended to dominate Canadian decisionmaking in sales of CANDU reactors, despite Canada’s reputation as a champion of “internationalist” values. Consis­tent with this argument, the article also presents new evidence that Ca­nadian policy may now be chang-ing—to one less favorable to CANDU exports—but precisely for domestic reasons. That is, recent public revelations about hidden costs behind CANDU exports have made justifying reactor sales more and more difficult at home. At the same time, recent evidence of environ­mental problems and lowered eco­nomic efficiency in the operation of CANDU reactors in Canada have thrown the alleged benefits of CANDUs (compared to other reac­tors) into question in the eyes of for­eign purchasers. Such concerns and

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