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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 19, New Delhi, April 24, 2021

India’s Nuclear Policy: From National Security to Energy Security | Debasish Nnady

Friday 23 April 2021

by Dr. Debasish Nnady*


India’s nuclear policy has been evolved with a lot of controversy and challenges. India has changed its nuclear policy after being attacked by China twice in the 1960s. One of the basic reasons for India’s move towards manufacturing nuclear bombs and its peaceful testing for national security. India has been maintaining the policy of nuclear deterrence theory in dealing with Pakistan. This paper intends to delineate the reasons behind the changing perception of India’s foreign policy. Apart from the military use of nuclear power, India is now concern about energy security. To meet India’s energy security India is emphasizing nuclear power energy as an alternative source of energy. This paper argues that India’s nuclear policy has been shaped by national security and energy security. I have used the content analysis method in this paper. 

Keywords: Nuclear policy, energy security, nuclear deterrence, NPT, CTBT.


Initially, India’s nuclear policy was very simple. India’s stand was - ‘no the first use of nuclear weapons and nuclear power should be used for humankind. The shadow of nuclear deterrence has appeared to end the security backdrop in South Asia before May 1998, when India and Pakistan conducted nuclear-weapon test explosions in 1974. Scientists and strategists of both countries started similar programs for the development of their nuclear science and energy programs at the same time (Jain,74). India did not build a nuclear arsenal or even seek to exercise nuclear deterrence against its neighbors until the mid-1980s(Chengappa,2000). Later on, it went to develop nuclear technology for self-protection and to show its national power. India did not sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) because of its discriminatory nature. In May 1974, India exploded her first nuclear bombs The US administration declared, soon after the Indian explosion, that the USA respected India as the major power in South Asia (Bandyopadhyaya, 1991). The UN-sponsored conference on Disarmament in Geneva in 1996 concluded the comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). A large number of member states of the conference tried to set up a committee for Nuclear disarmament for acceptance of a program of action for decommissioning of nuclear weapons but three NWSs- Britain, France, and the USA had rejected the idea and the dismissal rightly raised suspicion amongst others about the real intention of the NWS (Basu, 2002:37). India refused to sign the CTBT. India argued that CTBT was discriminatory. India demanded the total elimination of nuclear weapons. Pakistan also did not sign to the CTBT despite international pressure.

For the second time, India exploded five nuclear devices at Pokhran on 11 and 13 May 1998. All these were underground tests, and they provoked criticism and debates. According to some critics, these explosions marked a sudden departure from a policy being pursued for five decades. By carrying out five nuclear weapons tests within 48 hours India has at long last demonstrated her political will and courage expected of any nation which is a regional and global player of some significance (Biju, 2000). India has been motivated mainly by security considerations. India lives in a region where its security is threatened by several quarters. Pokhran II played a negative impact on the Indian economy.

No First Use Policy

The most debatable element of the Indian nuclear debate is unquestionably India’s No First Use’ Policy (NFU) initiative. Some scholars want to consider it a strategic matter and some scholars want to consider it as a cultural one. India’s nuclear doctrine ensures no first use of weapons and it will only use nuclear weapons in retaliation. According to this view, India will maintain the preference of nuclear weapons retaliation to continental ballistic missiles.

Moderates want to support the policy of deterrence policy to avoid hazards. K. Subrahmanyam pointed out, deterrence is more about perception than numbers. As Manpreet Sethi points out,

the most important advantage is that it obviates the need for the expensive nuclear weapons infrastructure that is associated with a first-use doctrine” (Sethi, 2009).
Sethi points to several other advantages of’ an NFU posture; for one, it puts the onus of escalation on the adversary, without preventing India from defending itself (Sethi, 2009:130-31). Sharma has argued that there is little need for India to have nuclear forces on hair-trigger alerts, which are always risky (Sharma, 2014). Bharat Karnad opined “extreme confidence not only in the survivability of its national nuclear forces sufficient to muster a devastating retaliatory strike but also in the efficacy of its crisis management system” —(Karnad, 2002:442).

P. R. Chari believes that India could use conventional military forces for such contingencies(Chari,2014). Some expansionists believe that NFU is a solution that makes the problem worse. Moreover, they suggest that Pakistan does not believe in India’s NFU pledge.

Rajesh Basrur, from a moderate outlook, has pointed out that no country can believe others’ declarations about NFU (Basrur, 2008: 69-70 He rightly points out that there is no key change between Indian and Pakistani nuclear disposition elegances in the ceasefire. Ali Ahmed argues that cultural factors have already led to a more assertive Indian military doctrine (Ahmed, 2014). Basrur has argued that Indian thinking on nuclear deterrence is ambiguous, pointing to differences between the DND and the official doctrine.

In 2005, India and the USA had initiated for civil nuclear power deal. The USA considered India as nuclear power and agreed to provide fuel for the Tarapore Atomic power plant. Mr. Bush (Junior), the President of the USA announced at Joint Press Conference in Washington that they have agreed to increase cooperation in civilian nuclear energy (The Statesman, 2005:1). This nuclear agreement is advantageous to both nations (Sharma, 2006:29). But this deal did not give any advantage to India’s nuclear weapons program. The supply of civilian-grade fuel or building new power reactors does not “free up” fissile material for India’s weapons program. It places almost three-fourths of India’s hitherto un-safeguarded fissile material and facilities under international safeguards. This is a significant net positive for global non-proliferation efforts particularly given the growing threats of fissile material (Singh, 2004:47). The India-US civil nuclear deal has been concluded in 2008. By this deal, the USA imposed some conditions on India. India’s leftist wings have vehemently opposed India’s nuclear engagement with the USA.

Various Aspects of Nuclear Policy

There are various aspects of nuclear-power exercises in India—

(1) The security aspect is a key aspect of India’s nuclear policy. The Chinese nuclear test in 1964 had bought about a remarkable change in India’s previous policy of unconditional support for international efforts towards nuclear non-proliferation (Ray,2002: 67). Looking upon its security India did not sign the NPT and CTBT. India realized to develop the nuclear arsenal.

(2) The issue of nuclear armament is somewhat a simpler issue but the debate on nuclear power is quite complicated. The scientists are sharply divided on this issue. Radioactivity is a crucial issue for the environment and human security. As the radiation can enter into a living system and caused biological harm. The issue of safety measures has been a crucial concern of India’s nuclear-debate.

(3) After Pokhran —I and, II, India’s motive in non-proliferation and disarmament had been immensely challenged by the international community. To defend the international community is a very tough job for India.

(4) According to Debi Chatterjee, “Pokhran-II, focusing on an ideology of heightened militarization, is bound to be traumatic for large sections of India’s population; for those whose vital interests are linked to, and those who identify with a democratic, humanist perception of the state. They are economically poor, low castes, ethnic and religious minorities, women and children; and, empathizing with them are the democratically-minded sections of the rest of the population” (Chatterjee, 2002:139). Prof. Chatterjee argued that for the sake of national interest and security India can enhance its nuclear power, but national interest should be linked with socio-political, democratic, and environmental issues. There are a lot of problems in India that remain unresolved. Indian democracy can be successfully functioning by ensuring ethnic, linguistic, and cultural pluralism. The expenses in manufacturing nuclear weapons make obstacles in eliminating poverty, illiteracy, infrastructural development, and public heal care projects.

(5) The aspect of human security is closely attached to India’s power exercises. All section of Indian people is not supportive of the explosion of the nuclear bomb due to human security issue. The initial euphoria of the nuclear bomb-blast is over. After Pokhran-II, the peace-loving Indians began to criticize the explosion. Most of the media overlooked or ignored the after-effects of the nuclear-bomb explosion. The inhabitants of adjacent villages of Pokhran are highly affected by so many physical problems, like nose-bleeding, gastrointestinal, and renal disorders, skin diseases, eye problems, etc. The ecological disorder was also noticed in the aftermath of the incident. Some Indians have considered the Pokhran-II as a violent act. So, a debate is still going on between science and violence’ over the nuclear issue.

(6) Human rights is another aspect of nuclearization. The explosions of nuclear weapons strait violate the provisions of the declaration of human rights. It is against article 5, and article 7 of the Declaration on the Rights of Development 1986. Nuclear weapons over mass-destruction. It causes incurable and deadly diseases like blindness, cancers, etc.
(7) Scholars who firmly believe in Deterrence Theory are quite sure that risk from Pakistan is very less. The nuclear arms race is more psychological than real.

India’s Nuclear Links with Different Countries

India’s nuclear relations with several countries in the world have witnessed many ups and downs. Primarily, India received support from some countries in receiving fuel and technology. After Pokhran-I and-II, some complexities have been noticed regarding India’s nuclear linkages with certain countries. New avenues have also been opened up in the post-Pokhran-II.

India-Canada Nuclear Cooperation

Canada was among the first countries to participate in India’s nuclear power program. It was also Canada’s first reactor export and marked a breakthrough for its nuclear industry and had agreed in 1956 to build India’s first nuclear reactor. The basic condition behind the building of the nuclear reactor was the peaceful use of nuclear power. India should not use nuclear weapons for military purposes. However, after the Sino-Indian war, since the mid-1960s, India had taken a secret plan to develop its nuclear weapons by using Canadian fuel. Canada had provided nuclear fuel to India until Pokhran-I (1974). After Pokhran-I, Canada stopped its supply of nuclear fuel to India. The sanctions were imposed by the Canadian government due to India’s unauthorized use of Canadian uranium to produce weapons-grade plutonium in the 1970s. India’s non-signatory role in the global nuclear non-proliferation initiatives had created a negative impact. The differences between Canada and India over non-proliferation and other equations were visible in the Cold War period. However, the year 2010 should be marked by the reconnection of India-Canada relations due to the signing of the nuclear cooperation agreement. In April 2015, after 40 years, Canada once again has agreed in selling uranium to India. It is also a good deal for India, which has been on a mission to restore normal trade in nuclear fuel and technology after a decades-long embargo imposed by Canada and other supplier countries.

India-Russia Nuclear Cooperation

India’s nuclear relations had been officially matured in 1988 after concluding a nuclear deal in 1988. Russian President Putin visit India in October 2000 and agreed on defense and nuclear cooperation with India. Both countries had expressed their desire for the peaceful use of nuclear technology. Most importantly, Russian nuclear exports are going to be constrained by its membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group(NSG). Being a founder member of the NSG, it is this clause that stands in the way of Indo-Russian nuclear cooperation since India does not accept International Atomic Energy Agency(IAEA) safeguards over its indigenously developed nuclear facilities (Sethi,2008). Russia has given promises to the government of India to support India’s demand to take entry into NSG. In 2002, Russia had agreed to the construction of two nuclear reactors at Kudankulam, Tamil Nadu. Rosatom State Nuclear Energy Corporation, a Russian state-owned nuclear company had agreed to build six nuclear reactors in India, including one in Haripur and one in West Bengal. As per the agreement Russia will share the enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) technology with India for the production of nuclear fuel for atomic power plants (Foshko, 2011).

India-Australia Nuclear Link

Australia is one of the supplier countries of nuclear fuel. Australia has the world’s largest nuclear reserves but it has no nuclear power industry. Australia has increased its uranium export in recent years. In 1998, after Pokhran-II, Australian Prime Minister John Howard had vehemently criticized India’s nuclear bombs test. Australia and Japan were at the forefront of international opposition to India’s actions. Due to this incident, Australia’s stand-point in nuclear cooperation with India got a setback. But Australia’s policy changed in 2011 as it agreed to make a special provision for India. Australia has concluded a nuclear agreement with India that includes safeguards on the use of uranium.

Indo-US Nuclear Engagement

The USA is a key partner of India’s nuclear energy program. In 2008, India concluded a ‘civil nuclear agreement’ with the USA. Regarding CTBT, Pokhran-I, and II the USA holds a negative view of India’s nuclear exercises. In the post-Pokhran era, the nuclear issue had become more relevant in obstructing Indo - US cooperation than any other factor between India and other major powers (including Japan and Canada), India’s nuclear ambitions remained a key roadblock to the expansion of ties. At present, India is immensely dependent on the Middle East-based oil-exporting country. The first world countries have condemned that India and other developing nations are responsible for global warming and emitting greenhouse gas. India has decided to open an alternative window, which is nuclear energy.

However, in May 1998, it was estimated that the cost of sanctions to India would be approximately $20 billion in loans, guarantees, and other economic aid. The estimate, however, did not include indirect costs associated with losses in consumer confidence capital flight, or foreign investment in the Indian stock market (Blustein, 1998). Many Indian journalists predicted that the impact of the sanctions would be minimal and emphasized instead the costs to American companies (Balachandran, 1998: 1). In the meantime, Prime Minister advocated stoicism and “not buckling” under the pressure. During the post-Pokhran - I, the nuclear issue had become more relevant in obstructing Indo - US cooperation than any other factor between India and other major powers (including Japan and Canada), India’s nuclear ambitions remained a key roadblock to the expansion of ties. 1978, US NNPA and the creation of the NSG further widened the gap between New Delhi and Washington (Pradhan, 2006). Tarapur also had been a sore point for many years. India argued that the U.S.A. did not comply with the original arrangement promising the supply of uranium to Tarapur. In subsequent years by trilateral agreement involving France, IAEA arrangements were made for the supply of uranium. According to former Indian Foreign Minister, Jaswant Singh, “India was the only country which debated nuclear options for 35 years.” Indeed, to him, no country had deliberated so much between its. Sovereign needs and global disarmament interests (Foreign Affairs).

Finally, in May 1998, India tested nuclear devices and argued it had not violated international treaty obligations. Yet the U.S.A. took an anti-Indian stand-point. After occupying his office, in January 2001, George Bush had tried to improve relations with India. Due to strategic reasons, India’s previous nuclear activities became a less important issue to the U.S.A. Then India was seen as the only country, which had the potentials to counter China. Bush declared India as “natural allies”. During Vajpayee’s regime, he wanted to redefine Indo-U.S. ties in the global strategic context. The new transformation in ties had finally brought out the deal. By bargaining with both sides, Bamganie agreed to finalize the deal. But India’s scientific community was wary of separation between civilian nuclear technology and military areas. According to Dennis Kux, “I don’t know where we will come out on the nuclear issue. The CTBT is off the table, so that problem is not there. The sanctions are probably going to go. I think the relationship is much broader. And I think Republicans see India as an emerging great power”.

However, a successful conclusion of the Indo-US nuclear deal was necessary for the sale of the Indian congress party were resisting the deal. The Indian population is expected to exceed that of China by 2030 and eventually have about 1.6 billion people. The economy is now growing between 7-9 percent. India is generically poor given this enormous population but consumes only 4 percent of its energy. The left parties of India had strongly criticized the Indo-US ‘civil nuclear agreement’. The CPI has been strident in its criticism taking pot-shots at Manmohan Singh for yielding too much in return for too little. The CPI (M), a little guarded but caustic.

There were some arguments of India in the conclusion of the civil nuke agreement with the USA—Firstly, Identify and separate civilian and military nuclear facilities and programs and file, and IAEA declaration regarding its civilian facilities; Secondly, Place voluntarily its civilian nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards; Thirdly, Continue its unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing; Fourthly, Work with the US for the conclusion of a multilateral fissile material cut-off treaty, Fifthly, Secure nuclear material and technology through comprehensive export control legislation and adherence to the missile technology control regime.

In January 2015, during the visit of US President Barack Obama to India the latest development took place regarding the civil nuclear deal. The civil nuclear liability problem is similarly thorny; a contact group formed after the September leaders’ summit is reportedly making steady progress, but there is no easy workaround without legislative revisions to the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act (White,2015). After negotiation with the American agencies, India ultimately agreed to take responsibility for the insurance of nuclear plants. It is 27 huge amount of insurance. The treaty has been concluded more than one decade ago, but, no project has been completed yet. Donald Trump’s view on the nuke deal is not clear. Indian experts are optimistic about Trump as he will abide by the rules of the civil nuke deal.

India-Japan Nuclear Cooperation

Japan is another important partner of India in nuclear cooperation. Japan and India signed a memorandum of understanding for civil nuclear cooperation in December 2015, when Japanese Prime Minister Abe visited New Delhi for the annual bilateral summit, overcoming reservations over India’s status as a nation that has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty. This was transformed into a deal in November 2017, when PM Narendra Modi was in Tokyo for the summit. Subsequently, the Japanese government got approval from the Diet (parliament) for the nuclear deal with India (Chaudhury, 2018). This was transformed into a deal in November 2017, when PM Narendra Modi had paid a visit to Tokyo for the summit. Subsequently, the Japanese government got approval from the Diet (parliament) for the nuclear deal with India. The landmark deal came into force in July 2018 with the completion of necessary formalities in both countries. This will enable Japan to export nuclear power plant technology as well as provide finance for nuclear power plants in India.

Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL)

The NPCIL is a Public Sector Enterprise under the administrative control of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), Government of India. This is responsible for the design, construction, commissioning, and operation of nuclear power reactors. NPCIL is an MoU signing, profit-making, and dividend-paying company with the highest level of credit rating (AAA rating by CRISIL and CARE). NPCIL is presently operating 22 commercial nuclear power reactors with an installed capacity of 6780 MW.

The basic objectives of the NCPIL are— (1) to develop nuclear power technology and to produce nuclear power as a safe, environmentally benign, and economically viable source of electrical energy to meet the increasing electricity needs of the country’. (2) To maximize the power generation and profitability from nuclear power stations with the motto ‘safety first and production next’. (3) To increase nuclear power generation capacity the country, consistent with available resources in a safe, economical, and rapid manner, in keeping with the growth of energy demand in the country. (4) To continue and strengthen of nuclear power program within the organization and those associated with it. (5) To develop personnel at all levels through an appropriate Human Resources Development (HRD) program in the organization to further improve their skills and performance consistent with the high technology. (6) To continue and strengthen the environmental protection measures relating to nuclear power generation. (7) To bring about modernization and technological innovation in activities.

There are several operational units under NCPIL (1) Tarapur Atomic Power Station Units, (2) Rajasthan Atomic Power Station Units, (4) Madras Atomic Power Station Units, (5) Narora Atomic Power Station Units, (6) Kakrapar Atomic Station Units, (7) Kaiga Generating Station Unit-1 (8) Kudankulam Nuclear Power Station Unit-1&2, and (9) Besides, NPCIL also has a 10 MW Wind Power Plant at Kudankulam site. There are four units under construction.

The NPCIL is committed to fulfilling some conditions— (1) To protect the environment from radioactive effects. NPCIL has voluntarily taken up the Environment Stewardship Programme (ESP), (2) to abide by safety measures. NPCIL units have received several safety awards from various national agencies. (3) Emphasizes nature conservation. (4) Conducting public outreach programs, etc.

India and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) 

To get entry into NSG is a long-awaited demand of India. India is using all diplomatic channels to take entry into NSG. In September 2008, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) offered a special waiver to India, exempting it from the nuclear export guidelines its members set for themselves (Ramana, 2009). The indo-US civil nuclear agreement helped India to be waived. China has repeatedly blocked India’s entry into the 48-member grouping which regulates global nuclear commerce. India applied for the membership of the NSG in May 2016, China has been insisting that only those countries which have signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) should be allowed to enter the organization. After India’s application, Pakistan too has applied for the NSG membership in 2016. The 48-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group met in Kazakhstan in June 2019, but not taken any decision on India’s pending application to enter the exclusive club (Wire, 2019).


India has a largely indigenous nuclear power program. The Indian government is committed to growing its nuclear power capacity as part of its massive infrastructure development program. The government has set ambitious targets to grow nuclear capacity. Because India is outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty due to its weapons program. Due to earlier trade bans and lack of indigenous uranium, India has uniquely been developing a nuclear fuel cycle to exploit its reserves of thorium. India’s nuclear policy has been evolved based on situations, and demands. India should develop its nuclear power looking upon its commitments in maintaining global peace, non-proliferation, and disarmament.

(Author: Dr. Debasish Nnady, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Kazi Nazrul University, Asansol, West Bengal, India E-mail: debasishnandy.kc[at]


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