Breaking the impasse

Friday, August 24, 2007

Growing energy demand in Indian economy have raised questions on impact of global energy availability. "Over heating" Indian economy need to overcome the "energy hunger" in order to realize its dream to become "developed nation by 2020". India has planned to increase its nuclear power generation capacity from 4,000 MWe to 20,000 MWe in the next decade. To Achieve this target, Indo-US nuclear deal will be the hot cake for India. What will US gain from helping India? Well, U.S. will provide access to civilian nuclear technology and access to nuclear fuel in exchange for IAEA-safeguards on civilian Indian reactors. More over, U.S. also expects that such a deal could spur India's economic growth and bring in $150 billion in the next decade for nuclear power plants, of which the US wants a share!

After all, who will gain/loose more? India or US? Thats the tricky question. Left is dwelling on this question to justify its stand (to oppose the deal), while the main opposition BJP is making some noise in the name of "Threat to National Security". Indian Ambassador to US Mr. Ronen Sen's comments have fueled the fire over nuclear deal . His point is, "With its(India's) advanced nuclear and military capabilities, why should India be afraid of some other nation? Why should India loose such a fantastic opportunity?" Apart from future political consequences, this argument seems to make some 'sense'.

Going through the text of India US agreement for peaceful use of nuclear energy, it seems that India will be the looser if it does not go ahead with the deal. How? The deal seems to be in the true spirit of July 2005 and March 2006 agreements. The deal has the right answer to the following questions.

1. Does the agreement provide India the right to reprocess used fuel?
Yes. Under Article 6(iii) of the deal, "India will establish a new national reprocessing facility dedicated to reprocessing safeguarded nuclear material under IAEA safeguards and the Parties will agree on arrangements and procedures under which such reprocessing … will take place in this new facility." Hence, indigenous reprocessing facilities will not come under IAEA safeguards.

2. Does the agreement ensure the continuity of fuel supply? What about right to terminate the fuel supply and right to return the supplied fuel in case of termination of the agreement?
"In case of disruption of fuel supplies, the US and India would jointly convene a group of friendly nations such as Russia, France and the United Kingdom to pursue measures to restore fuel supply." This provision is the result of Tarapur experience. (US had offered a nuclear fuel supply to Tarapur atomic energy power plant under 1963's 123 agreement. But after India conducted its nuclear weapon test in 1974, United states withdrew the fuel supply to Tarapur plant. US made an alternative arrangement by asking France to supply the fuel, France too refused to supply the fuel saying that India is not a member of Nuclear Suppliers Group(NSG)! Russia came in to help India and ensured the fuel supply to Tarapur plant)
"The agreement will remain in force for 40 years but Article 14.1 under this agreement gives the U.S. the right to terminate the agreement “on one year’s written notice.” It should also provide the reasons for seeking this termination. 14.3 also allows for termination in the event of a violation of the agreement by India. If termination is based on violation of an IAEA safeguards agreement, a “crucial factor” will be whether the IAEA Board of Governors has made a finding of non-compliance"
The text of the agreement seems to be providing alternatives and measures to overcome the "unwanted" consequences.

3. Does India need to surrender its
right to test a nuclear weapon?
Absolutely not! Article 14.2 says the U.S. agrees to “take into account whether the circumstances that may lead to termination or cessation resulted from [India’s] serious concern about a changed security environment or as a response to similar actions by other States which could impact national security.” So, if India conducts a nuclear test as a response to some other countries (like Pakistan, China etc..) it would be treated as response to the threat to the national security and the consequences have to be resolved by peaceful mutual consultations.

4. What about the National Security concerns?
Only the civilian nuclear activities come under safeguards and the "experts from US or IAEA" will not be permitted to visit other indigenous nuclear infrastructure / projects. Thus, India can continue with its nuclear research and development projects.

Are there any drawbacks in India-US 123 Agreement compared to other 123 Agreements of US with other countries?
Yes. "It has been conveyed to the highest circles in the govt that the 123 agreement with India differs from the one signed by China in one crucial aspect. China managed to incorporate the provision that neither side would invoke the provisions of its internal law as a justification for its failure to observe the principles of a treaty" India too attempted to get this provision incorporated but due to the US opposition, it managed to elicit the assurance (in the 123 agreement) that the deal will be implemented in good faith and in accordance with "International Laws".

This means either India or US can terminate the agreement by invoking their respective domestic laws. So, India can pass an act or amend an existing act (The Atomic Energy Act 1962) to guard against United States' right to return the nuclear material if the agreement is broken. For instance "If the United States say that the Hyde Act would prevail over the 123 agreement on return of material, India can claim that it cannot do so because it has law of its own that does not permit re-export of material or equipment if it affects the functioning of the nuclear plants"[The Hindu].

Thus, the new law or the amendment to Atomic energy act 1962 could be India's answer to the Hyde act and help to address the communist Party of India (Marxist)'s concerns about the deal [CPI(M) argues that right to return the nuclear material will be disastrous for India]. This can break the impasse over the issue of Indo-US nuclear deal. Dr. Manmohan Singh can still be not worried about the drama that is happening over the nuclear deal. Lets wait and see what happens when Dr. Anil Kakodkar goes to Vienna for IAEA meet on Setpember 16th, 2007. Do we see the mid term elections? Time is the only answer!


6. "The Hindu" - 24th August 2007, page 14.
8. Ronen Sen's Comment: [''It has been approved here (in Washington DC) by the President and there (in New Delhi) it has been approved by the Indian Cabinet. So why do we have all this running around like headless chickens?'']

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This work by Manjunath Singe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License. The views and opinions expressed in this work are strictly those of the author and do not represent his employer's views in anyway.