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Is the N-deal good? Debate rages
July 17, 2008 14:46 IST
As the crisis triggered by the government's move to go ahead with the nuclear deal has reached a flash point with the ruling party being forced to seek a trust vote in Parliament, there is a renewed interest nationwide in the debate over the merits and demerits of the proposed civil nuclear energy pact with the US.
Speaking to UNI, several eminent experts have questioned the need for the deal at all to meet the country's civil energy requirements, arguing for diverting the huge amount involved in it to tapping the renewable and other sources of energy.
Some have opposed the proposed pact on the ground that it will put many constraints on the country to pursue its independent foreign policy, whereas others have described it as a 'fair deal'' and a great opportunity for the country to restart its nuclear reactors to meet the growing energy needs.
Dr A Gopalakrishnan, former chairman Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, Ashok Parasarthy, former scientific adviser to prime minister Indira Gandhi [Images], and Prabir Purkaystha of the Delhi Science Forum have come out with very strong views against the deal, while Dr Rajesh Rajgopalan of JNU and defence expert Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal find the deal as a great opportunity for the country to operationalise its defunct nuclear reactors and get the ones based on latest technology to produce 40,000 MW of energy badly needed to drive the country's economic growth.
Dr Purkaystha says the cost of the per KW nuclear energy at present was $4000, a cost at which a thermal power plant based on solar energy would produce the same amount of power, minus the hazards of the nuclear radiation and the fear of stoppage of supplies of fuel by the US and other suppliers in future.
These calculations, he says have not been done in the abstract but based on the actual costs that have come for a 1600 MW nuclear power plant installed by a French company in Finland. When the agreement was signed the cost was $2650, but now there has been a 25 per cent escalation in the cost which has come to $4000 per KW.
''The figures are there on all international websites, and could be checked by anyone interested,'' he said.
Even if the nuclear energy is taken as the most suitable option for the country, there were so many difficulties with the 123 Agreement that the deal could not be given a clean chit he says.
He said it would be a wishful thinking that if the US stopped supplies of nuclear fuel, India would get it from other members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. ''One should not forget that the US was behind the formation of the NSG after India carried out nuclear tests in Pokhran,'' he said.
Even before the agreement was finalised, India was forced to vote against Iran at the IAEA under US pressure despite the fact that Iran had not violated any of the international rules, he said.
The former chairman Atomic Energy Regulatory Board has also attacked the deal and the safeguards agreement. The government contention that under the agreement, it was free to take ''corrective measures', has been hotly contested by him.
He says the phrase was very vague and was found only in the preamble to the Draft agreement, because of which it had no legal binding.
Moreover, the corrective measures are to be taken to keep the nuclear reactors operational, and if the Nuclear Suppliers Group stopped supply of uranium, there was no scope for any meaningful corrective steps, he said.
Dr Gopalakrishnan also said the government was befooling the people by saying that the Hyde Act of the US government would not override the 123 agreement.
''In fact the Hyde Act is a domestic law and the 123 agreement has to work within its confines, and this has been made amply clear by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice [Images] in her February 18 statement to the US Congress,'' he said.
Moreover, the nuclear energy would come at a much higher cost per unit of electricity compared to conventional coal or hydro power, which the country can generate without any foreign imports.
However, experts like Prof Rajesh Rajgopalan of JNU strongly favour the deal. He says the fear of India's strategic programme being disturbed in case the deal fell apart was baseless as the country had enough of reserve uranium to carry on with its strategic programme outside the safeguarded facilities.
Without the deal with the US, India could not get any material for operating its nuclear power plants from anywhere without putting its entire nuclear industry under safeguards, he says.
The rules were changed after the Iraq war, after it was found that the country even after having signed the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty, had diverted some of the nuclear material to non-civil use.
India wanted to go back to the previous situation in which it would put only imported material under the safeguards instead of the whole industry, he said.
After the agreement, only 14 reactors for which India would be importing the uranium would be open to international inspection.
Regarding the rest of the reactors in which the indigenous uranium would be used, there will be no need of putting them under international inspection, he said.
Replying to the criticism of the safeguards agreement over the phrase ''corrective measure'' which India can take in case of disruption of supplies, he said it was in fact good to keep it vague as it gave the country more scope and more choice to act if any contingency arrived.
He also rubbished the criticism that the Hyde Act would override the provisions of the 123 Agreement. In fact the Hyde Act removes the bar put by the US Atomic Energy Act on the US Administration to cooperate with India as it was not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
However, Parasarthy, strongly disputes those who say that the 123 Agreement was delinked from the Hyde Act.
The Act, he maintained, clearly said the deal would come to an end the moment India carried out any nuclear test, and it required that even if the country built up a reserve of fuel, the US would ensure that it was not large enough to enable it to keep its reactors operational if the supply was cut off following any civil nuclear sanctions that the US Congress might impose in the event of the country carrying out any nuclear tests.
Moreover, Parasarthy said, under the Hyde Act, the US Administration was required to get an undertaking from the India that it would not produce weapon grade plutonium even from its own unsafeguarded reactors after a specific future date, which would greatly hit the country's weapons programme. The Act also required India to adopt a foreign policy in concord with that of the US government, he said.
Besides, the 123 did not cover US supply of technology and technical facilities relating to uranium enrichment and heavy water production, and for reprocessing too, there would be no supply of technology and facilities, said Mr Parasarthy, adding that the only thing India was allowed to do was to reprocess the spent fuel using its own technology and technical facilities.
On the other hand, Japan [Images] and Korea have been provided US technology and facilities under their 123 agreements, he sought to point out.
Dr Parasarthy also criticises the 123 agreement for its ''silence'' on arbitration.
''The act merely says that if any disagreement between the Parties arises, it will be negotiated and settled, but what would happen if they fail to resolve the agreement through negotiations,'' said Parasarthy, adding that the country might have to pay a very heavy price for it.
Under the Agreement, the parties can terminate the treaty if they decide that a mutually acceptable resolution of its reasons for seeking termination has not been possible, and that it cannot be achieved through consultations. But then question arises that if things cannot be resolved through negotiations. Then they should be taken to arbitration, but the 123 is silent on that, he said.
However, according to another expert Brig Gurmeet Kanwal, India has in a nutshell got a ''fair deal''.
Article-by-article comparison of the 123 agreements signed by China and India clearly shows that India has got a better deal, he said.
He sought to point out that Article 2.1 states that each party to the agreement shall implement it in accordance with its national laws. The opposition parties have complained that the provisions of the Hyde Act will override the provisions of the 123 Agreement, but they do not explain how US domestic laws can compel the Indian government into accepting conditions that are not in the national interest, he argues.
If one sees in terms of international law, the provisions of China's 123 agreement are quite objectionable by Indian standards.
According to Article 2.1, China may not invoke the provisions of its internal laws to justify violation of the agreement and that Chinese exports pursuant to the agreement will be subject to the US laws prevailing at the time.
"There is no such provision in the 123 (Article 16.4) relating to India. It simply states that the agreement will be implemented in good faith and in accordance with the principles of international law,'' he said.
As far as the right to reprocess spent fuel was concerned, India's standpoint has been accepted and it is allowed to establish a separate re-processing facility and that re-processing will be carried out under IAEA safeguards.
Brig Kanwal also says that the uranium reserves India has were sufficient for its strategic programme. However, India has already committed itself for a credible minimum deterrence, he sought to point out.
He said the nuclear reactors of the country were operating at 50 per cent of their capacity and in a period of 10 to 15 years, they would come to a grinding halt.
Moreover, without the deal, India would not get the latest reactor technology which Russia [Images] and France [Images] can now supply.
Harinder Sikhon, a researcher, says the nuclear deal was the only opportunity for India to get fuel supplies for its reactors, as a new administration may be very conservative about non-proliferation and so may not be so much in favour of the deal.
She said those who were talking about the restrictions against India to test nuclear weapon should remember that even without the deal, sanctions could be imposed on India if it carried out any nuclear test.