Pioneers of India’s n-energy programme to help US

January 4th, 2011 - 2:06 pm ICT by IANS  

By Gurmukh Singh
Toronto, Jan 4 (IANS) Canada’s CANDU reactors - famous in India for pioneering its nuclear energy programme in 1963 - are now likely to help the US meet its demand for a crucial compound needed in making bomb-detection devices.The compound helium-3, which is used in scanners to detect nuclear bombs, is in short supply globally as the US and its allies fear nuclear smuggling by al-Qaeda terrorists.

Helium-3 is derived from tritium. And tritium is derived from heavy water used in CANDU (CANada Deuterium Uranium) nuclear reactors. Since the US, which doesn’t use CANDU technology, reportedly has other technologies to extract helium-3 from tritium, it is seeking out Canada as one of the sources for helium-3.

The Canadian Press quoted Ted Gruetzner of Toronto-based Ontario Power Generation, which operates CANDU reactors, as confirming that the US was seeking bomb-detecting isotope from Canada.

“I think both parties see it as a way of keeping North Americans more safe, or has the potential to do that,” he was quoted as saying. “This is really just doing the legwork and the homework on what it is you need to do to make this work.”

Since Canada has strict regulations on exporting nuclear-related technologies, he said a study, due in April, is under way to determine the costs and potential revenues of exporting tritium to the US.

“Because we’re the ones who actually own the material and have the source, they want to work with us on technical issues, regulatory issues, security issues - all those questions that need to be answered before both parties can look at it and say, ‘Yes, this is something we should proceed with,’ ” the official said.

But since Ontario already supplies medical isotopes to the US, he ruled out any regulatory hurdles.

Canada is the pioneer of CANDU technology in the 1940s. Unlike Pressurized Water Reactors (PWRs) and Boiling Water Reactors (BWRs) which require enriched uranium, CANDU reactors are moderated by heavy water using natural uranium oxide.

Known for their safety record, CANDU reactors are currently also being used by India, China, Pakistan, South Korea, Argentina and Romania for power generation.

Canada, which helped India start its nuclear programme in 1963 by signing an accord to build a 200MW reactor in Rajasthan, suspended all nuclear ties after New Delhi carried out its first nuclear test in 1974, alleging that the enriched material used in the explosion was extracted from the reactor supplied by it.

(Gurmukh Singh can be contacted at gurmukh.s@ians.in)

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