NEW DELHI - More than 30 years after the United States
walked out of a nuclear cooperation agreement with India, because it
conducted an atomic test, the two countries have agreed to resume
collaboration in civilian nuclear energy.
A joint-statement issued by US President George W. Bush and visiting
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Washington on Tuesday said the US
would now ''work with friends and allies to adjust international regimes
to enable full civil nuclear energy and trade with India.''
Essentially, this means that Washington has now accepted India as a
nuclear weapons-state (NWS) although it is euphemistically referred to
as ''a state with advanced nuclear technology''.
That would entail a dilution of the global nuclear regime, founded on the
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which only recognizes five NWSs.
All five crossed the atomic threshold before 1967 while India became a
self-declared NWS only in 1998.
The US-India agreement is likely to run into problems on the supply side,
in the US and in the Nuclear Suppliers' Group comprising 44 relatively
industrialized states as well as on the recipient side - India.
Under the agreement signed between Bush and Singh, the US has promised to
sell nuclear materials and equipment to India and also to involve it
in 'advanced' areas of research.
Interestingly, this could mean a role for India in the International
Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) which will experiment with
fusion reactions that release energy when nuclei are forced together -
unlike fission in which nuclei are split to release energy.
In return, India would ''assume the same responsibilities'' and ''acquire
the same benefits and advantages as other leading countries with advanced
nuclear technology'' that could only be read as nuclear weapon states.
Besides ''working to prevent the global proliferation of weapons of mass
destruction'', India would take a series of steps towards ''identifying
and separating civilian and military nuclear facilities and programs.''
India would also be required to file a declaration regarding its
civilians facilities with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
and place them under its safeguards, continue its ''unilateral moratorium
on nuclear testing'' and work with the US for the ''conclusion of a
multilateral Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty''.
India would also ''secure nuclear materials and technology through
comprehensive export control legislation'' and through ''adherence to
Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and Nuclear Suppliers' Group
(NSG) guidelines'' although it is not a member of either grouping.
There are deep divisions within the US establishment over restructuring
the global nuclear order to accommodate India. For instance, security
experts like Ashley J. Tellis advocate that the US should integrate India
into the global non-proliferation regime by treating it as a de facto
nuclear state and transferring nuclear technology to new facilities, but
Others like George Perkovich argue that the ''the US and others should
not adjust the nuclear non-proliferation regime to accommodate India's
desire for access to nuclear technology - The costs of breaking faith
with non-nuclear weapons states such as Japan, South Africa, Brazil,
Argentina, Sweden and others who forswore nuclear weapons [are] too high
to warrant accommodating India's nuclear desires''.
These states are also NSG members and could put up stiff resistance to
Bush's promise to relax the global non-proliferation regime. The NSG's
guidelines are tougher than many IAEA safeguards.
Resistance is likely from within the Indian establishment too. ''The
first problem with the agreement is that it misses the point about the
extremely limited scope for meaningful nuclear cooperation between India
and US,'' argues A Gopalakrishnan, a nuclear engineer and former chairman
of India's Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (IAERB).
''The US has no worthwhile current expertise in the design, construction,
operation, maintenance or safety of any of the type of reactors existing
or envisaged in the Indian nuclear power program,'' Gopalakrishnan
India's reactors include two obsolete US-built enriched uranium-boiling
water reactors more than a dozen reactors which burn natural uranium
with heavy water, and fast-breeder reactors. The US has no commercial
natural uranium-based heavy water reactors, the mainstay of the Indian
nuclear power program.
While India could change its nuclear technology trajectory from natural
to enriched uranium and import US-made reactors this would make it too
dependent as India has not been able to enrich uranium in large enough
External dependence is unacceptable to many Indian policy-makers,
especially in the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), which has had an
unpleasant experience with procuring enriched uranium fuel for two US-
built reactors at Tarapur, near the western port city of Mumbai.
India does need raw uranium too because its existing mines are rapidly
depleting and there is popular resistance to the opening of new mines.
Importing uranium will need relaxation of NSG guidelines and the US has
promised to bring this about.
''Yet, it is far from clear that the other 43 members of the NSG will
agree,'' says a high-level DAE source, who requested anonymity. ''In the
past, the NSG failed to reach a consensus on supply of enriched uranium
for Tarapur. The guidelines demand full-scope safeguards under the IAEA.
This is something we in the DAE are unwilling to fall in line with''.
The same source said it is difficult to isolate India's civilian nuclear
facilities and activities from military ones. Often, the two occur in the
same location or laboratory. So having IAEA inspectors will interfere
with India's ''sovereignty''.
''Besides most DAE scientists would be loath to subject, say, fast-
breeder reactors to IAEA safeguards. They are the next stage in our
energy independence plans, and will pave the way for the use of thorium,
of which India has an abundance. We in the DAE believe in the doctrine of
self-reliance and independence in matters nuclear,'' the source said.
However, this belief is not supported by facts. In the past, India has
lawfully imported or clandestinely bought nuclear technology or materials
from diverse sources like the US, China, the former USSR, Russia, France,
Norway and Britain.
But the idea of nuclear self-reliance remains an article of faith with
many DAE officials and scientists. One of them, A.N. Prasad, a former
director of the Bhabha Atomic Research Center, has been quoted as saying
that allowing IAEA safeguards ''goes against the national interest''.
Thus the Indo-US deal does not have the full support of the principal
Indian agency responsible for its execution. It is also likely to run
into rough weather politically because there is no broad consensus on the
issue of safeguards or conformity with NSG and MTCR guidelines.
There is the trickier issue of India agreeing to extend its moratorium on
conducting nuclear weapons tests. In 1995-96, the Comprehensive Test Ban
Treaty was vehemently opposed by a cross-section of political parties but
after the 1998 blasts, India unilaterally declared a moratorium on
Reiterating that commitment in a joint declaration with the US is sure to
raise fears about loss of - sovereignty” and vulnerability to pressure
from Washington and is fraught with political consequences at home.
The emphasis in the agreement on promoting nuclear power to
meet ''growing global energy demands in a cleaner and more efficient
manner'' is likely to invite opposition from India's environmentalist
Environmentalists have pointed to the grave hazards posed by nuclear
technology through its propensity for serious accidents, and the problem
of high-level radioactive wastes which remain menacing for tens of
thousands of years.
© 2005 IPS - Inter Press Service