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Are adverts revealing nuclear secrets?

Nature volume 440, page 389 (23 March 2006) | Download Citation

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Indian newspaper clippings request special parts.

Washington DC

When US President George W. Bush was asked recently whether he thought India — with whom he had just announced a deal to export nuclear technology — was a responsible nuclear nation, he responded simply: “I do.” But critics say a scan through the local papers is all it takes to show that New Delhi is blatantly circumventing US and European export controls, and publicizing nuclear secrets.

Image: CENTRIFUGE: D. ALBRIGHT & J. ROTHSTEIN

In a report released on 10 March, David Albright and Susan Basu of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington DC reveal that a Mumbai-based company has frequently placed advertisements in Indian newspapers; the ads are for corporations to supply items that seem to be components of a uranium gas centrifuge.

They analysed almost 200 public advertisements placed since 1984 in The Times of India by Indian Rare Earths, a mineral-extraction company that they suspect is helping to further the government's uranium-enrichment programme.

Gas centrifuges are spinning canisters that can be used to produce uranium that is enriched in the fissile isotope uranium-235, for use in reactors or weapons. The technology is currently being pursued by nations such as Iran (see Nature 432, 432–437; 2004).

Not everyone is in agreement over how to respond to the ads. Arjun Makhijani, president of the non-profit Institute for Energy and Environmental Research based in Takoma Park, Maryland, points out that India never signed the treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. So it is technically allowed to further its enrichment programme. “India is not breaking any rules,” he says.

But Albright says the technically detailed descriptions being published in newspapers show India's lax control over its nuclear technology. “It's gotten ridiculous,” he says. “India just can't turn its back on this, and neither can the United States.”

CORRECTION (22 Mar 2006): the print edition of this article incorrectly referred to uranium-238 as the fissile isotope for use in reactors and nuclear weapons.

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