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N-deal concerns remain
March 07, 2006
During United States President George W Bush's India visit last week, the governments of India and the US have reached an agreement on the essential elements of the nuclear cooperation deal.
It is worth looking back at what we have achieved through the past eight months of negotiations, and what the remaining major Indian concerns are.
Officially, there is no word yet from the Indian government on the various provisions they have agreed to.
As usual, much more information can be found at the White House web site, especially in the latest press briefings given by US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns.
Finally, India appears to have succeeded in reaching mutual agreement on a separation plan for our power reactors, with around eight out of 22 of these reactors retained in the military list.
All the eight establishments India's Department of Atomic Energy wishes to keep out of safeguards are operating pressurised heavy water reactors. Their use is considered essential for India's strategic weapons programme, aimed at maintaining a minimum credible nuclear deterrent.
The future disposition of the Indian fast breeder reactors had been the subject of prolonged negotiations for some time. The DAE has finally convinced the Americans that our strategic programme and the long-term energy security considerations of the nation will not permit us to place the fast breeder programme under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards for the foreseeable future.
When and if we wish to change this stance in the future, the decision will be solely India's.
As part of the give and take in this bargain, India had to accept IAEA safeguards 'in perpetuity' on our civilian facilities.
But these safeguards and the associated Additional Protocol will be made 'India-specific' -- to take care of our major concerns and to blunt their intrusive clauses.
In return for this concession, I understand that the US has agreed to provide us life-time nuclear fuel supply guarantee for our civilian reactors through three separate and simultaneous modalities: Firstly, through a bilateral agreement between the US and India; secondly, by a trilateral agreement between the IAEA, the US and India; and finally, through the creation of a multinational standing-group to monitor fuel supplies to India.
The prized concession which the US and Canada wanted from India was to get the 40 MW CIRUS reactor, an India-Canada-US product, within the list of civilian facilities and under IAEA safeguards.
Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh is understood to have outright rejected this joint demand. In any case, the prime minister has announced that India has decided to permanently shut down the CIRUS reactor in 2010.
The DAE is already in the process of designing a more modern research reactor of about 60 MW to 80 MW capacity, for which notional approval was given some time back.
Soon after New Delhi builds and commissions this new natural uranium-heavy water research reactor at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre as part of India's un-safeguarded military complex, we should be ready to phase out the CIRUS.
The new reactor will enable India to carry a modern portfolio of research and development tasks to suit our future plans, which we are unable to perform through the 46-year-old CIRUS.
Incidentally, the new research reactor will also produce annually at least the same quantity of weapons-grade plutonium that CIRUS is providing today.
The Americans should have no quarrel with this approach, since it meets their desire to see CIRUS not operating beyond the next six years or so, and our addition of a replacement research reactor in the military side does not violate the terms of the agreement.
In the coming weeks, many of the activities related to the India-US nuclear deal will shift to Washington.
The Bush administration has in its hands the challenging task of convincing the sceptical members of the US Congress and the US non-proliferation lobby that the terms of this deal will, over a period of time, help curb India's nuclear arsenal from getting out of hand, and that it will not encourage some of the current nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty members to break out from the Treaty and initiate their own nuclear weapons work.
Assuming the deal crosses the hurdle of Congressional scrutiny, it still has to pass the close examination and debate at the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
Only after both these steps are successfully completed will the question arise of India's negotiations with the IAEA, to put in place a suitable safeguards agreement and an Additional Protocol.
Dr A Gopalakrishnan is former chairman, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, Government of India. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org