India is operating it s second plutonium reprocessing plant and intends to build a third alongside a plutonium breeder reactor it plans to construct near the city of Madras.
These unclassified plans were oulined last Monday by the Central Intelligence Agency in closed session and discussed again yesterday in open testimony by the State Department before the subcommittee on arms control of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"There is no evidence to indicate that India is doing anything with its plutonium except to store it for use in its breeder program," Deputy Under Secreatary of State Joseph S. Nye told the subcommittee. "Besides, the amounts of plutonium involved are not large."
The plutonium reprocessing plant in operation is located at Tarapur, where a large nuclear power plant fueled with enriched uranium supplied by the United States is located. Nye said the plutonium being extracted in the reprocessing plant is being taken out of spent fuel built up in four research reactors scattered around India.
"The plutonium being built up in the plant at Tarapur is still locked up in spent fuel rods," Nye said, "Which are being held in swimming pools of water right at the reactor."
Nye estimated that there are 200 tons of spent fuel in India, under water at swimming pools at the three large nuclear power plants operated by India. A fourth nuclear powe plant will soon be completed in India. The three power plants operating and the fourth being built come under international safeguards, meaning thei plutonium cannot by law be made into nuclear weapons.
None of India's four research reactors and neither of its two existing reprocessing plants are safeguarded, Nye said. There was no indication that the third reprocessing plant and the plutonium breeder planned near Madras would be safeguarded.
Plutonium extracted from the first reprocessing plant near Trombay was used to make the nuclear bomb India exploded in 1974. This plutonium came from spent uranium fuel supplied by Canada and irradiated with the help of 21 tons of heavy water shipped to India by the United States in 1956.
"Those initial agreements were written much too loosely," Nye said. "Our present agreements are much tigher."
Nye and the four commissioners of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission testifies before the Senate subcommittee on an export license involving the shipment of 7.6 tons of American uranium bound for the plant at Tarapur. In a 2-to-2 vote last month, the NRC turned down the export license, but President Carter issued an executive order approving it and in effect overruling the NRC,
Congress has 60 days from the date President Carter approved the export license (April 27) to block the move. It would take a majority vote of each house to stop the export.
The two NRC commissioners, Victor Gilinsky and Peter Bradford, who voted against the export indicated they would approve it if India agreed to put all their nuclear facilities under safeguards.
Nye said that, even if India does not agree to safeguard all its nuclear facilities, he feels the fuel bound for Tarapur would be safe.
"I think if India enters into any kind of legal agreement," Nye said, "it will be kept."
The news that India plans a plutonium breeder brings to at least seven the number of countries operating or planning breeders. The others are the Soviet Union, France, Great Britain, Japan, Belgium and West Germany. The United States had planned a breeder for Clinch River, Tenn., but it was blocked by President Carter.