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  End of The Indo-US nuclear Deal?  


By: Dr.Dipak Basu
May 06, 2007
iews expressed here are author’s own and not of this website. Full disclaimer is at the bottom.


(The author is a Professor in International Economics in Nagasaki University, Japan)

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We should pray that US would withdraw the Indo-US nuclear deal under pressure from the Democratic Party. It will be a blessing in disguise. The nuclear deal has little to do with the nuclear power generations but it aims at the elimination of India’s ability to produce any nuclear weapons. Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), which India has refused to sign so far, is about to be imposed upon India through a back door with devastating consequences for India’s immediate future.

Dr Homi Sethna, former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and one of the founding-father of India’s nuclear program, said that what Dr Manmohan Singh was about to sign was worse than joining the NPT regime. Dr A. Gopalakrishnan, former chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, has outlined how precisely commitments made by Dr Singh to Parliament and the people have been blatantly undermined and notes that if the deal goes through in its present form, it will "compromise the sovereignty of this country for decades to come". He has exposed the very enormous financial price that India will have to pay as well, between Rs 300,000 to Rs 400,000 crores in nuclear reactors that will be totally dependent for their existence on a yearly audit of our policies by the US Congress. Dr P.K. Iyengar, another former chairman of the AEC, has called the deal "giving up sovereignty".

History of Development:
India decided on a three-stage nuclear program back in the 1950s, when India's nuclear power generation program was set up. In the first stage, natural uranium (U-238) was used in pressurized heavy water reactors (PHWRs). In the second stage, the plutonium extracted through reprocessing from the used fuel of the PHWRs was scheduled to be used to run fast-breeder reactors (FBRs) built by the Soviet Union and Russia in India.

“The plutonium was used in the FBRs in 70% mixed oxide (MOX)-fuel, to breed uranium-233 in a thorium-232 blanket around the core. In the final stage, the FBRs use thorium-232 and produce uranium-233 for use in the third stage reactors.” (See Ramtanu Maitra, "Thorium: Preferred Nuclear Fuel of the Future," Executive Intelligence Review, Nov. 18, 2005.)

The reason for India's commitment to switch over to thorium, is its large estimated thorium reserves of some 290,000 tons, it ranks second only to Australia. This would help India to bring independence from overseas uranium sources. India already began the construction of the Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR) in 2005 with the help from Russia. The fuel for the AHWR will be a hybrid core, partly thorium-uranium 233 and partly thorium-plutonium. If, according to the Indo-US nuclear Deal India cannot reprocess the spent fuel to secure plutonium for the sake of converting thorium into fuel, the thorium reactors will never take off.

The second concern of the Indian scientists is the scope of "full civilian nuclear energy cooperation" (Section 123 of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act) that was promised to India in July 2005. India had assumed that this term encompassed the fuel cycle, namely enrichment of uranium and reprocessing of spent fuel. In the discussions leading to the adoption of the Hyde Act, U.S. legislators argued that the U.S. Atomic Energy Act of 1954 specifically forbids export of these technologies, as also heavy water production technology, to other countries. India has developed its own technologies with the help from the USSR and Russia since 1974 in these three important areas. All these now would go down the drain.

China-Pakistan Collaboration:
China has already supplied Pakistan enrichment plants and heavy water plants, and nuclear weapons as well. Chinese nuclear plants offered to Pakistan will not be under the control of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Thus, Pakistan can very well use these to produce nuclear weapons. Although China is a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) of 45 nations and a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), China like in all other international spheres does not care about its obligation to any international treaty if its national interest demands so. China’s national interest is to set up Pakistan against India by providing every weapons and missiles it has got.

Does India need US nuclear power plants?
Nuclear power has been virtually insignificant in India’s energy mix in the past, and will be no more important in the future. India has been generating electricity with nuclear reactors for more than 40 years. Yet, reactors supply only 2% to 3% of its electricity today. India has not built more reactors because they have not turned out to be as safe, or as clean, or – most important – as economical as originally thought. Even if India were to achieve a 50% increase in nuclear power generation (which is unlikely) such a step would only increase India’s overall electricity output by one percent at most, and would only increase India’s overall energy output by a fraction of one percent.

The real issue is whether India needs any US assistance at all regarding its nuclear energy sector. The argument of Man Mohan Singh, as he said in the Parliament recently, that otherwise India would be a nuclear ‘Pariah’ is false. In 1974, USA has imposed sanctions so that India cannot get any nuclear related materials or technology. After 1998 USA has imposed more sanctions on India so that it cannot get any defense related technology or materials at all. However, India since 1974 has received every nuclear technology, and materials including conventional nuclear power plants, Fast Breeder reactors, reprocessing and enrichment plants and heavy water plants from the Soviet Union and Russia without any restrictions attached to these. As a result, India is nearly self-sufficient regarding nuclear technology and can produce nuclear weapons despite all the efforts of the United States to stop it.

Only for the last two years, because of its membership of the NSG, Russia now wants to supply nuclear power plants with added safeguards that the plants cannot be used to produce any nuclear weapons. However, at the same time, it has offered offshore nuclear plants to India, which would be without any restrictions. India can have both or either of the on-shore or offshore nuclear power plants from Russia and as a result for the future development of electricity production, India does not need US support at all. Thus, it really does not matter if India would refuse to sign the Indo-US treaty on nuclear energy.
Even if India needs nuclear power plants to supplement it energy requirement in future, India does not need nuclear power plants from USA. Russia can still supply whatever India needs at a much lower price.

India’s nuclear weapons:
Section 103 of the Hyde Act suggests that the US would oppose development of a capability to produce nuclear weapons by any non-nuclear weapon state within or outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty regime. The section requires the US to work with the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group to further restrict transfers of equipment and technologies related to uranium enrichment, reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel and production of heavy water to all countries, including India. The legislation also requires the US government to seek to prevent transfer of these equipment and technologies from other members of NSG or from any other source if the transfers are suspended or terminated. Section 104(d) (2) stipulates that transfers to India cannot begin without suitable changes in NSG guidelines. There are concerns related to the supply of nuclear fuel to the plants in India, which would be used to produce nuclear weapons, by using end-use monitoring of spent fuel by the International Atomic Energy Commission and the US organizations. Also there are provisions in the legislation, which would putt a cap on fissile material production. These would end India’s nuclear weapons program.

About 90 percent of all nuclear facilities, including the Russian built Fast Breeder Reactors which can produce plutonium for nuclear weapons, will be included in the civilian sector and there will be regular inspection by the IAEA and the US authority to make sure that these facilities will not be used to produce nuclear weapons.

India for the military part of the nuclear sector will not be able to import technology or materials from any of the countries of the NSG, including Russia. Thus, India’s nuclear weapons program will disappear. This is the real aim of the Indo-US treaty. Man Mohan Singh’s recent declaration in the Indian parliament that India would maintain the option to test nuclear weapons is very theoretical. In practice, India will be unable to do that because of lack of availability of appropriate facility to develop and test nuclear weapons in near future.

In the case of nuclear deal with the US also, India just like in 1991 and 1995 is accepting a subordinate position in relation to USA and the Western countries. The result will make Pakistan much stronger than India in very near future. That serves the geo-political interest of the United States with Pakistan as the bridge to the Islamic world.

The deal is primarily about making money, U.S. arms sales to India. U.S. exporters have mentioned selling as much as $1.4 billion worth of Boeing airliners, hundreds of F-16 or F/A-18 fighter jets, as well as maritime surveillance planes, advanced radar, helicopters, missile defense and other equipment. The Russian press has even complained that the nuclear deal is a ploy to squeeze Russia out of the Indian arms market.

U.S. Congress need take no action until a formal agreement for nuclear cooperation has been negotiated with India, and until the International Atomic Energy Agency has agreed with India upon suitable inspection arrangements, and until the Nuclear Suppliers Group has decided whether to change its rules to accommodate the deal. Once an agreement is made and presented for consideration, U.S. Congress can add more conditions that seem warranted. Thus, it would be a total surrender for India to the U.S.

Thus, without the nuclear deal India would be able to maintain its nuclear plants by using reprocessed plutonium as a fuel and using its own uranium in the conventional plants. It will continue to get offshore nuclear plants from Russia. In that case it will be at liberty to test further nuclear weapons in future. Those who are advocating for the deal, which has a little chance of survival given the anti-nuclear lobby in the Democratic Party, are pushing India to a very insecure future.

Dr.Dipak Basu

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