Maybe you have heard the story of how In­dia got the Bomb with Canada’s in­ad­ver­tent help... This is old news to en­thu­si­asts of Cold War history. Here’s the new news: it al­most hap­pened twice. Cana­dian tech­nol­ogy was al­most used by an­other coun­try to break

National Post (National Edition) - - NEWS - Colby Cosh Na­tional Post [email protected]­tion­al­ Twit­­byCosh

Maybe you have heard the story of how In­dia got the Bomb with Canada’s in­ad­ver­tent help. We sold In­dia a nu­clear re­ac­tor called CIRUS in 1954 on an ex­plicit prom­ise that the facility would only be used for peace­ful pur­poses. When In­dia as­ton­ished the world with its first nuke test in May 1974, hav­ing up­graded the fuel out­put from CIRUS, it duly an­nounced that it had suc­cess­fully cre­ated a Peace­ful Nu­clear Ex­plo­sive. The per­ma­nent con­se­quence was, for bet­ter or worse, a nu­clear-armed Sub­con­ti­nent.

This is old news to en­thu­si­asts of Cold War history. Here’s the new news: it al­most hap­pened twice. Cana­dian tech­nol­ogy was al­most used by an­other coun­try to break into the nu­clear club.

In Novem­ber, his­to­ri­ans David Al­bright and An­drea Stricker pub­lished a new book called Tai­wan’s For­mer Nu­clear Weapons Pro­gram: Nu­clear Weapons On-De­mand. The book pulls to­gether the pre­vi­ously sketchy story of Na­tion­al­ist China’s covert nu­clear re­search, which had its roots in the post­war ex­o­dus of Chi­ang Kai-she kandt he Kuom­intang party (KMT). Al- bright and S tricker de­scribe decades of ef­fort by the off­shore Repub­lic of China on Tai­wan to play a dou­ble game with nu­clear weapons.

At first Tai­wan en­gaged in sneaky nu­clear re­search — it turns out that if you re­search nu­clear safety you learn a lot about nu­clear ex­plo­sions — and it tried to cre­ate a plu­to­nium stock­pile on the sly. But their sci­en­tists left too many clues: a plu­to­nium-based nuke re­quires pro­cessed plu­to­nium metal, and that is hard to make with­out rais­ing sus­pi­cions. The In­dian test of 1974 was an im­por­tant wake-up call to the world, and the non­pro­lif­er­a­tion es­tab­lish­ment and the U.S. De­part­ment of State started to get ner­vous about Tai­wan.

After a 1977 con­fronta­tion with Amer­i­can of­fi­cials, who could hardly be ig­nored by the vul­ner­a­ble Repub­lic of China, the KMT deep state tried sub­tler meth­ods to cre­ate the “on-de­mand” weapon de­scribed in the ti­tle. Tai­wan com­mit­ted for­mally to non­pro­lif­er­a­tion and full U.S. in­spec­tions of its fa­cil­i­ties, but sought to be able to make low-yield nukes within three to six months in the event of a Com­mu­nist in­va­sion from the main­land.

The key to the story is the 40-me­gawatt ura­ni­um­fu­elled Tai­wan Re­search Re- ac­tor (TRR), sup­plied, like CIRUS, by Canada. TRR was very sim­i­lar to CIRUS in de­sign and ca­pa­bil­ity. The pile went crit­i­cal in Jan­uary 1973, giv­ing Tai­wan an in­dige­nous source of plu­to­nium. Un­der the sales agree­ment, the re­ac­tor was to be “safe­guarded” by the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency (IAEA), an­swer­ing to its in­spec­tors and ac­count­ing for the where­abouts of its fuel. But Tai­wanese nu­clear agen­cies im­me­di­ately be­gan to be­have sus­pi­ciously, talk­ing to some of the slim­ier Eu­ro­pean in­dus­trial con­cerns about buy­ing re­pro­cess­ing equip­ment that would al­low weapons man­u­fac­ture.

The 1971 recog­ni­tion of the main­land Com­mu­nist govern­ment by the UN had been a set­back for the IAEA’s abil­ity to mon­i­tor nu­clear en­ergy in Tai­wan. The IAEA is a UN agency, and it had to aban­don the ne­go­ti­at­ing struc­ture it had built for dealing with what was no longer con­sid­ered a sov­er­eign state. Al­bright and Stricker note that the Trudeau govern­ment’s pro-main­land for­eign pol­icy cost us any in­flu­ence we might have ex­er­cised over the use of our TRR nuke plant, which seems to have been a darned fine prod­uct. Tai­wan started to make deals with South Africa for tech­ni­cal ad­vice and ura­nium sup­plies.

The U.S. read Tai­wan the riot act in 1977 and nu­clear weapons de­vel­op­ment by the Repub­lic of China was reined in for a while. But TRR con­tin­ued to op­er­ate, cre­at­ing a plu­to­nium pipe­line that could the­o­ret­i­cally be called upon at any time. Plu­to­nium was con­stantly be­ing shipped to the U.S., but regulations and anti nuke ac­tivism there cre­ated de­lays, so there were al­ways a few kilo­grams held up in Tai­wanese stor­age, and more was al­ways present in the Cana­dian re­ac­tor it­self.

In the 1980s the na­tion­al­ist mil­i­tary tried to study and de­velop the “on­de­mand” ca­pa­bil­ity, which would let it ob­serve the let­ter of non­pro­lif­er­a­tion while de­fil­ing its spirit. The on-de­mand plan might never have been prac­ti­cal, for a myr­iad of rea­sons. More­over, Tai­wan had no phys­i­cal room to con­duct a real nu­clear test, so if it ob­tained a nu­clear weapon, all it could do was to an­nounce that it had one.

Covert nu­clear de­vel­op­ment in Tai­wan was fi­nally stopped cold be­cause one of the Repub­lic’s se­nior sci­en­tists, Chang Hsien-yi, be­came con­vinced that nukes were dan­ger­ous to the ex­ist- ence of the Repub­lic. Chang, who is the ma­jor source for the new book, be­came a CIA in­for­mant in the 1980s. In 1987, it be­came ap­par­ent that Chi­ang Kai-shek’s son and suc­ces­sor Chi­ang Chung-kuo did not have long to live. Chang and the U.S. in­tel­li­gence es­tab­lish­ment were not con­fi­dent that the con­sti­tu­tional heir ap­par­ent, Lee Teng-hui, would be able to pre­vent a mil­i­tary coup.

They un­der­es­ti­mated Lee, but the CIA and the State De­part­ment acted boldly. Chang sent his fam­ily on a con­ve­niently timed va­ca­tion to Tokyo, and was se­cretly ex­fil­trated from Tai­wan on Jan. 12, 1988. He lives in the U.S. and has not re­turned to his coun­try. Chi­ang Chung-kuo died on Jan. 13, 1988: some say the shock of Chang’s es­cape killed him. The Tai­wanese mil­i­tary knew that their nu­clear weapons game was up, and cried un­cle, work­ing with the U.S. to elim­i­nate the du­bi­ous parts of their nu­clear en­ergy in­fra­struc­ture. It’s a heck of a story, even with­out the hi­lar­i­ous Cana­dian an­gle.


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