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Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2008 > July 5, 2008 > Don’t Go Ahead with the N-Deal : Top Scientists

Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 29

Don’t Go Ahead with the N-Deal : Top Scientists

Friday 11 July 2008, by A Gopalkrishnan, A N Prasad, P K Iyengar


We were part of a group of senior nuclear scientists who had in the past expressed our grave concerns and objections to India entering into a nuclear cooperation agreement with the US under the aegis of the Hyde Act 2006. We had written to the parliamentarians on this matter, and the Prime Minister had given us an opportunity to meet with him and discuss our views.

At this critical juncture, when the Government is about to rush the safeguards agreements to the IAEA without giving its details even to their own UPA-Left Committee created specifically for a joint evaluation of the Deal, there is a great deal of disquiet among the scientific community at large in this country. We, therefore, are strongly of the opinion that the Government should not proceed to seek the IAEA Board approval for the current draft safeguards agreement, until its implications are debated more fully within the country, or at least within the UPA-Left Committee as well as with a group of experts who were not party to the IAEA negotiations.

The Government is enthusiastically pushing the Deal on the basis that it will bring about energy security to India, since it will enable the import of foreign nuclear power reactors. But, analysts have convincingly and quantitatively shown that this additional power will come at a much higher cost per unit of electricity compared to conventional coal or hydro power, which India can generate without any foreign imports.

Once the Deal is in place, it is also clear that India’s commercial nuclear interactions with the US as well as with any other country will be firmly controlled from Washington via the stipulations of the Hyde Act 2006 enforced through the stranglehold which the US retains on the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Any argument to the effect that the Deal will be governed only by the bilateral 123 Agreement is untenable, because this Agreement in turn is anchored in US domestic laws, which include the Hyde Act. And, the Hyde Act contains several stipulations which are extraneous to the issue of bilateral nuclear cooperation, including foreign policy behaviour which India needs to adhere to if the Deal is to be kept alive. The real issue facing India, therefore, is whether or not we want this mythical extra ‘energy security ‘ through this Deal, paying almost thrice the unit capital cost of conventional power plants, with the additional burden of subjugating the freedom to pursue a foreign policy and indigenous nuclear R&D programme of our own.

The nuclear Deal could also have other serious repercussions, including a potential weakening of India’s nuclear deterrent and an inability to protect and promote indigenous R&D efforts in nuclear technology. A combination of the extreme secrecy with which the Government has carried forward this Deal, the media hype they were able to generate in its favour, the parochial interests of opportunistic individuals and organisa-tions, and the unfortunate ignorance of the issues involved among the general public have put the country on a dangerous path, likely to lead to the detriment of the current and future generations of Indians. Today’s urgency to rush to the IAEA Board, in consonance with the American timetable, to get the safeguards agreement approved and thereafter clinch the Deal during the tenures of the current governments in India and the US must, therefore , be replaced with an openness and introspection that is vital for a serious debate which the situation demands.

The central issue about the IAEA safeguards agreement has been the doubt as to how “India-specific” these are. In particular, since it is distinctly clear from the Hyde Act and the 123 Agreement that no uninterrupted fuel supplies have been guaranteed in these documents for reactors which India will place under safeguards, the Government had assured that this defect will be corrected in the safeguards agreement. Since the IAEA was all along known to be no fuel-supply guarantor, there is serious doubt whether Indian negotiators obtained any assurance in this regard.

As per the 123 Agreement , the Government has all along asserted that the IAEA safeguards will have “provisions for corrective measures that India may take to ensure uninterrupted operation of its civilian nuclear reactors in the event of disruption of foreign fuel supplies. Taking this into account, India will place its civilian nuclear facilities under India-specific safeguards in perpetuity”. The nation would like to know clearly what these “corrective measures” will be, before plunging headlong into this Deal. India being merely allowed to withdraw from safeguards the Indian-built PHWRs we may place under safeguards , and that too after stripping them of all spent and fresh fuel and components of foreign origin, is no corrective step at all because such action does not ensure uninterrupted operation of these civilian nuclear reactors in the event of disruption of foreign fuel supplies. Besides, this relaxation does not apply to the imported power reactors, which will use up the bulk of our investments in nuclear power; these units will perpetually stay under safeguards, even after fuel supplies are denied. The Hyde Act prohibits the US Administration from directly or indirectly (through the IAEA or other countries) assisting India with life-time fuel supplies after suspension of the Deal. Therefore, the Government owes a clarification in this regard to the UPA-Left Committee and the public.

The 123 Agreement states that the imports under the Deal “shall be subject to safeguards in perpetuity in accordance with the India-specific Safeguards Agreement between India and the IAEA and an Additional Protocol, when in force”. While the actual draft of the Additional Protocol (AP) applicable to India may have to be negotiated and agreed to at a later date, it is absolutely necessary that a prior agreement between the IAEA and India on the essential features of such an Additional Protocol must be reached simultaneous with the finalisation of the safeguards agreement and before signing it. The most intrusive actions under safeguards are always taken on the basis of this protocol, including the “pursuit clause” which permits interference with our non-civilian programmes on the basis of unsubstantiated suspicion. India needs to make it clear what the limits are beyond which we will not entertain any IAEA action or intrusion, and it should be clear that a standard Model Protocol applicable to non-nuclear weapon States will not be acceptable to India. The leverage to debate and get the kind of restricted Additional Protocol we want will be entirely lost once a safeguards agreement alone is first put in place and the installations put under safeguards. As we understand, the limitations within which India is willing to enter into the Additional Protocol regime was neither discussed by Indian negotiators at the IAEA nor do they appear in the safeguards draft or its attachments. The Government needs to clarify their thinking on the Additional Protocol before proceeding to the IAEA Board.

Reprocessing the spent-fuel arising from burning fresh imported fuel in our civilian reactors provides us valuable additional plutonium, which in turn can be recycled into future civilian fast-breeder reactors (FBRs) or advanced heavy water reactors (AHWRs). Reprocessing, therefore, is at the core of India’s plans to build long-term energy security.

The Government had all along pledged to secure an unqualified right to reprocess spent-fuel and even termed India’s right to reprocess “non-negotiable”. But, in the 123 Agreement, what has finally been obtained is merely an empty theoretical right to reprocess. The actual permission to reprocess will come after years, when a dedicated state-of-the art reprocessing plant is built anew to treat foreign fuel, along with a host of allied facilities. There will be a large number of safeguards and Additional Protocol issues related to this, and all these hurdles will have to be crossed to reach the beginning of reprocessing . Much of the fundamental basis on which all this will be done has to be discussed and settled now at the outset, while the overall safeguards agreement is being finalised. But, the Government has not done this exercise during the recent set of negotiations with the IAEA, and this deficiency will come to haunt India in future unless it is removed.

In the above manner, there are several other key safeguards-related issues of crucial importance, for which no one, including the UPA-Left Committee which the Government created, has been provided answers. None of the issues raised in this Press Release can be addressed adequately and in an acceptable manner unless the entire safeguards agreement and its associated papers are made available to the UPA-Left Committee for their evaluation, as well as to a set of independent national experts who have so far not been part of the Government’s negotiations with the IAEA.

Signatories: Dr P.K. Iyengar, former Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission; Dr A. Gopalakrishnan, former Chairman, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board; Dr A.N. Prasad, former Director, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre.

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