>The brouhaha over the nuclear deal has created a great more noise than light. Most people don’t really know what is happening, and it does not help that our esteemed MPs are choosing to exaggerate and shout rather than debate the merits or demerits of the deal. In a few short paragraphs, here are the bare bones of the deal:
What is India’s nuclear position?
India’s nuclear energy program began in the 1950s with a great deal of involvement of the United States through the Atoms for Peace program, including helping build and providing nuclear fuel for the nuclear reactor in Tarapur, as well as through scientific cooperation. Differences arose in 1968 with India’s opposition to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The NPT recognises five states (US, USSR/Russia, UK, France and China) as Nuclear Weapons States on the basis that they tested nuclear weapons before 1967. India considers this discriminatory. [i] Signatories to the NPT are allowed access to each other’s civilian nuclear facilities. After 1974, when India tested its first nuclear device, the US formed the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), to oversee sales of nuclear material. In 1978 the US Congress passed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act but the US continued to provide some nuclear fuel to India under a 1963 treaty with India until 1980, when it passed on those responsibilities to France.
In 1992 the NSG limited sales of nuclear technology and materials to non-Nuclear Weapons States only if their nuclear reactors were under full scale safeguards implemented by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). France continued to provide nuclear fuel to India until it too adhered to this provision in 1996. China and Russia have supplied India with nuclear fuel after this period. Nuclear energy in 2006 accounted for 3 GigaWatts of electricity, or 2.6 per cent of India’s electricity generation. [ii]
India plans on expanding the amount of electricity generated by nuclear energy to 20 GWe by 2020 (this is from nuclear plants already under construction). Except that we have a lack of Uranium. Most of our Uranium is low quality, except some newly discovered deposits that have as yet to be mined. Our plants are running at under 40% capacity when they could be running at above 90%. In another words we are paying more than twice the costs of electricity generated by nuclear energy because we are stopped from buying nuclear fuel because of NPT and NSG guidelines.
What does the nuclear deal do?
The nuclear deal will allow us to buy some (though not all) nuclear fuel and technology from the US, and it commits the US (which is the most important member of the NSG) to convince other members of the NSG to change their guidelines so that India can also buy fuel from them.
What do we pay for this deal?
Money. The deal allows them to sell us nuclear fuel and technology and it allows us to buy it from them. That is the bare bones. The complications are that we will have to put 14 out of our 22 nuclear plants under supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and promise to use those reactors only for civilian purposes. This will apply to most of the new reactors that will be built.
Does this mean we cannot build, or test, nuclear weapons?
We can build as many nuclear weapons as we want, as long as the fuel is from the military nuclear facilities. If we test nuclear weapons we have a problem, with the US at the least. The US is bound by its Atomic Energy Act of 1954 and the Hyde Act, 2006, that will mean it cannot sell us fuel if we test nuclear weapons. The Agreed Text of the nuclear deal does not talk about nuclear testing, but simply says that national laws will apply. This is what happened in the earlier Tarapur case. The US had to stop supplying fuel under its own laws, and passed the responsibilities on to others. In reality we don’t know when, or if, we will have to test nuclear weapons, and if and when it happens, we can try and negotiate a position then. As things stand now, if we test, the US will have to stop supplying us with nuclear fuel & equipment. The only way to beat that is to convince the US to change its laws.
Why do people dislike the deal?
Critics of the deal feel that we are losing the independence of our policy options by signing up to this deal. We will have to put a large part of our nuclear infrastructure under international supervision, and if things go wrong we will have bought large expensive nuclear energy plants and not be able to buy fuel for them. They insist that we should concentrate on clean coal and other alternative sources of energy. The reality is that we don’t have clean coal technology and the coal we use for electricity production is immensely polluting. Solar, and hydrothermal power is unreliable, expensive and just not enough.
The other main reason that people dislike the deal is that they feel it is an excuse by which the US will try and control India. In reality the deal is just a civilian nuclear deal, not a military compact. India is bound by its own laws, nobody else’s, this does not change that. the deal also allows us to buy nuclear fuel and technology from anybody and also to buy enough fuel for the lifetime of the nuclear reactors. If the US, for any reason, terminates the deal, it has to pay compensation.
We are a growing power, with a hungry economy. We need energy, and we also need to make new relationships. This is part of that process. It could be a better deal, but you don’t negotiate with a superpower and get everything we want. In the real world life is about compromises, to quote a former US Ambassador who I know well, “What people need to remember is that both sides were negotiating as much by what they left out as by what they put in. Their objectives were largely, but not entirely, compatible. India can demonstrate that it is not bound by unilateral US requirements. The US can demonstrate, albeit with a little more difficulty, that it can fully abide by US law under the 123 agreement. Neither side can get the comfort involved in having its maximum desires spelled out.”
[i]. Indian government position on NPT and other treaties dealing with non-proliferation: http://www.indianembassy.org/policy/CTBT/embassy_non_proliferation.htm .
[ii]. “Nuclear Power in India” Briefing Paper 45, Uranium Information Centre, http://www.uic.com.au/nip45.htm.
From the Blog: The Indian Shitizen