The alchemy of uranium enrichment, which can be used either to power a city or blow it up, is a fraught discipline: to whom do you pass on its secrets, who do you exclude? Just six countries, the U.S., France and the Netherlands among them, are permitted to enrich uranium today— and Canada wants in. Trouble is, so does Iran, which says it wants to enrich uranium so it doesn’t have to depend on outside sources to fuel its first nuclear power plant, slated to begin operation this fall. Critics of the regime worry Tehran could just as easily be preparing to fashion a weapon.
Rather than rely on a complex set of rules to govern the matter, the U.S. in 2004 pressed for a ban, renewed annually by the G8, on new nations acquiring the capability. That made Canada—and specifically Saskatchewan, which produces almost a third of the world’s uranium and wants to become, as Premier Brad Wall says, a “continental energy centre”— a little peeved. Wall envisions enriching the uranium mined in his province at home, before dispatching it to customers the world over.
So it was no surprise last week when reports out of a Vienna non-proliferation meeting described Canada as chief agitator among countries trying to get the U.S. to soften its line. Early signs indicate the U.S. may soon agree to drop its insistence on a ban in favour of a rules-based approach to approving new countries. That tantalizes
Wall, who went stateside earlier this year to let U.S. bigwigs know their position throws us in with potential baddies. “We’re Mounties and maple syrup,” he says. “What are we doing on any list with North Korea and Iran?” Still, the worry is that Iran could become the beneficiary of Canadian efforts. Nor is it clear who we would sell our uranium to—the market is flush with competitors. Still, if a nuclear renaissance really is coming, it’s better to I be on the right list from the start. M
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