Uranium deal with China questioned

Geoffrey York
Globe and Mail
July 22, 2005

Beijing: Canada’s potential uranium exports to China are being questioned by environmental and disarmament groups after a Chinese general suggested that Beijing might use nuclear weapons in a war with the United States.

Chinese government officials and investors have been visiting Canadian uranium companies in recent months to scout for uranium.

With 30 nuclear reactors planned in China over the next 15 years, Beijing needs uranium to fuel its $40-billion nuclear-power expansion, and it is considering Canada as a key source.

Activists are worried Canadian uranium would find its way into China’s nuclear-weapons program.

Those concerns grew deeper after the controversial comments by a senior Chinese military officer, who warned that China could destroy hundreds of U.S. cities with nuclear weapons if a future conflict over Taiwan escalates.

“If the Americans draw their missiles and position-guided ammunition onto the target zone on China’s territory, I think we will have to respond with nuclear weapons,” said Zhu Chenghu, a major-general in the People’s Liberation Army and a professor at China’s National Defence University.

“We, Chinese, will prepare ourselves for the destruction of all of the cities east of Xian,” the general told an official briefing last week. “Of course, the Americans will have to be prepared that hundreds of cities will be destroyed by the Chinese.”

The Chinese government later said the general was giving only his personal opinion. But U.S. officials sharply criticized the comments, calling them “highly irresponsible.”

While China has signed international treaties pledging that its civilian nuclear program will be kept strictly separated from its military program, Canadian activists are skeptical of those promises.

“The nuclear posturing by the Chinese military increases the concern that uranium sales to China could contribute to their nuclear-weapons program,” said Dave Martin, energy co-ordinator at Greenpeace Canada.

“China is surrounded by nuclear flashpoints in Taiwan, the Korean peninsula and the Indian subcontinent. Uranium sales to China would make Canada complicit in a new and dangerous regional arms race.”

Despite China’s promises, there isn’t a clear distinction between its civilian and military nuclear programs, Mr. Martin said.

“Further sales of Canadian uranium to China would inevitably contribute, directly or indirectly, to China’s nuclear-weapons program. At the very least, Canadian uranium will free up China’s other supplies of uranium to be used for nuclear weapons.”

Norman Rubin, director of nuclear research at Energy Probe in Toronto, said Canada should not export uranium to an authoritarian regime that lacks any public control of its nuclear establishment. The exports could make it easier for China to share its nuclear technology with rogue states and unstable regimes, he said.

“If we stop exporting uranium to nuclear-weapons states, they could have to choose between fuelling their power reactors and building more bombs,” he added.

The Chinese general’s comments about a possible nuclear attack on the United States have raised doubts about China’s promises that it would never launch a first nuclear strike against any country, said Ernie Regehr, director of Project Ploughshares, a peace group sponsored by Canadian churches.

Canadian International Trade Minister Jim Peterson, responding to the criticism from environmental groups, said he has full confidence in Canada’s export-permit system.

“Each application is looked at individually, and departments throughout the government are consulted,” he said in a statement to The Globe and Mail yesterday. “We research [each application] to ensure that exports are going to be used in the manner they are meant to be used.”

Mr. Peterson said he is satisfied with the safeguards that China accepted under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and its subsequent protocols.


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