Separation anxiety of the nuclear kind (2)

Liberalise the nuclear power industry

One of the more unfortunate sides of the current debate over the separation of India’s civilian and military nuclear projects is the characterisation, by the Indian Express, of India’s nuclear scientific establishment. The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and its members have more expertise in matters nuclear than the Express’s editorial board and Mr C Raja Mohan combined. The nuclear establishment’s voicing of a view that is different from that of the rest of the Indian government should not suddenly qualify its competency to be questioned and its record belittled, all with a view to dismissing its concerns. Sure, it is necessary to conduct a critical appraisal of its record and performance — by the government and even by the media — but that is altogether a different matter.

That the DAE is resistant to change is understandable. It is also true that many officials in the nuclear establishment do not like the Indian government’s decision to separate the programmes as part of the deal with the United States. But it is important to note that their most serious objections are not over separation itself, but over how what is separated. The DAE has reasonable grounds to argue to keep the fast breeder reactor projects away from IAEA safeguards. Firstly, India has a technological edge in this niche. Allowing its scientists to develop intellectual property in this area makes sense. Secondly, the thorium that fuels these reactors is abundantly available in India. Thirdly, fast breeder reactors produce five times the fissile material as conventional reactors. The availability of a ready source of fissile material (to power India’s nuclear weapons) becomes all the more important after separation.

The Acorn remains a strong supporter of the Indo-US strategic partnership, and indeed, the need for separation of the military and the civilian aspects of the nuclear programme. But it is absurd to be dismissive of the DAE’s reasonable concerns, especially if the motivation for making haste is to reach an agreement in time for President Bush’s visit to India later this year. Although Indian negotiators have a point when they point out that the United States is “changing the goalposts”, the Bush administration needs a deal that it can sell to the US Congress. Taking a legalistic line on what is essentially a unprecedented compromise by both sides will be counterproductive. Yet as far as separation is concerned, as Bharat Karnad argues, India could reasonably insist on applying the same rules that America applies to itself.

But there is one aspect missing from the current debate, and that relates to the nuclear power industry structure. Quite distinct from this debate over how the current pie is sliced is how the deal with the United States will change India’s nuclear power policy. Given the huge gap between demand and supply of electricity in India, there is a case for the government to open up the industry for private and foreign investment. Needless to say, these reactors will be under international safeguards and thus no different from plants that burn coal or spin turbines. Liberalising the nuclear power industry need not affect the government’s nuclear establishment’s work on fast breeder reactors and the weapons programme. But, among other things, it will give President Bush something to carry back to his constituents.

15 thoughts on “Separation anxiety of the nuclear kind (2)”

  1. Should the government have instead told the US that just like you need to get this deal through Congress, we also need to do the same thing in our Parliament?

  2. I was surprised at the harshness of Raja Mohan with regards to DAE. I hope PM is better informed than IE editorial or columnists.

    DAE needs to be pushed to separate strategic and civil nuclear assets but not under an artificial deadline of Bush’s visit. The strategic part probably needs to merged with armed forces while civil part probably privatized (I doubt we can that far any time soon).

    The artificial deadline bugs me. May be things won’t get done without such a deadline. But DAE and its case deserves better treatment than the utter contempt of Raja Mohan and the like. Despite the history of US strong arming Indian nuclear establishment repeatedly in the past, apparently, now, we have to believe everything that US says (and what is unsaid) will happen rather than deal with DAE concerns. The Americans have a habit of using Congress to extract unnegotiated terms out of most deals – this is nothing new. That Indian foreign policy establishment will fall for this tactic seems to be.

    There was better analysis of DAE concerns in FE few weeks ago called separation is not rocket science (or something like that). I can’t find a link to it.

  3. Nitin:

    I think the DAE has already lost the argument inside the govt.; hence the public comments by the DAE chief, in (what I read as) a last-minute attempt to change govt. policy. It is a pity that the GOI seems willing to cave on the American demand to put the fast breeder reactors under int’l. supervision. I hope I am mistaken on this matter, and the Americans have not won the ‘tug-of-war’ on the details of the treaty.

    Another mark of whether the GOI or the U.S. Govt. won the tug-of-war, is whether the GOI accepts safeguards ‘in perpetuity’ over the reactors it puts on the civilian list (as opposed to over the fuel supplies to those reactors).

    BTW, the Indian Express (along with Raja Mohan) seems to be carrying water for those in the Govt. upset by the DAE. There’s yet another article slamming the DAE’s judgement.

    Regards,
    Kumar

  4. Nitin: Kinda agree with the post, but I am still trying to have a deeper look at the technical.

    Liberalising the nuclear power industry need not affect the government’s nuclear establishment’s work on fast breeder reactors and the weapons programme. But, among other things, it will give President Bush something to carry back to his constituents.

    Import reactors and fuel, operate under IAEA and get us the power. Westinghouse/GE/Areva gets the business. DAE has no objections to this. Seems like a win-win deal, right?

    What does the US (exclude the NP Ayatollahs) want? Why does the US and its chelas in the Indian media (Express and Raja Mohan, who btw has been b!tching about DAE in every TV channel) wants to put FBR as civilian list?

  5. C Raja Mohan’s comments are pretty strong and premature regarding the separation of Civilian and the nuclear projects.

    There are few things that we have to understand before we make such comments:

    1. DAE and the research scientists were least informed about this US-India and Nuclear deal. India should have done proper homework before going ahead with such a deal. India’s nuclear program was never designed wherein civil and military nuclear projects were kept separate. And changing things in a very short notice is very difficult.

    2. Its quite obvious that if we have to come under the surveillance of I.E.A.E, we need to safeguard our interests and military projects so that we dont loose edge in that respect. If US is taking all the precautionary measures to safeguard its own interests while playing this deal; its very important we carefully prepare and do our homework. If we just go through this excerpt from CRS report for US congress we can understand the kind of home work they are doing :

  6. C Raja Mohan’s comments are pretty strong and premature regarding the separation of Civilian and the nuclear projects.

    There are few things that we have to understand before we make such comments:

    1. DAE and the research scientists were least informed about this US-India and Nuclear deal. India should have done proper homework before going ahead with such a deal. India’s nuclear program was never designed wherein civil and military nuclear projects were kept separate. And changing things in a very short notice is very difficult.

    2. Its quite obvious that if we have to come under the surveillance of I.E.A.E, we need to safeguard our interests and military projects so that we dont loose edge in that respect. If US is taking all the precautionary measures to safeguard its own interests while playing this deal; its very important we carefully prepare and do our homework. If we just go through this excerpt from CRS report for US congress we can understand the kind of home work they are doing :

    “A particular challenge for the United States is to ensure that the new steps —separating civilian and military facilities, placing civilian facilities under IAEA safeguards, and applying an additional protocol — are implemented in a way that satisfies U.S. legal requirements. The United States under Article I of the NPT must ensure that its assistance does not “in any way assist, encourage or induce any nonnuclear-weapon state to manufacture nuclear weapons.” A significant question is how India, in the absence of full-scope safeguards, can provide sufficient confidence that U.S. peaceful nuclear technology will not be diverted to nuclear weapons purposes, as it was in 1974.38 Some observers believe that IAEA safeguards provide CRS-13”

    3. Lets go in depth and see what our partner in this deal is thinking. The following was extracted from csr report: http://fpc.state.gov/documents/organization/59365.pdf

    Potential Issues for Congress

    As the Administration consults with Congress over implementation of the U.S.-
    Indian nuclear cooperation agreement, Congress may want to consider several
    questions of substance:
    1. What level of intrusiveness, either in the process of separating India’s civilian and military nuclear activities, or in an inspections regime, is sufficient to meet U.S. NPT obligations not to aid, assist, or encourage efforts to develop nuclear weapons?

    2.What is a credible and defensible separation plan?

    3. How should an additional protocol be implemented in India’s case to maximize the IAEA’s ability to detect diversion from the civilian sector to the military sector? What is the added value of the additional protocol, given the certainty that nuclear weapon facilities cannot be inspected?

    4. How well do India’s export controls function?

    5. What are India’s plans for its nuclear weapons program and what is the possibility that U.S. assistance could benefit that weapons program?

    6. If India is prepared to take on the responsibilities undertaken by other nuclear weapon states, is it prepared to stop producing fissile material for weapons? Is it prepared to declare some nuclear material as excess to its defense needs and place that material under IAEA safeguards? Is it prepared to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty?

    7. What impact will nuclear safeguards on civilian facilities have on India’s transparency efforts with Pakistan?

    8. What would be the impact of NSG agreement to an exception for India before the U.S. Congress approves an agreement for cooperation?

    If this is what US is looking at then its quite pragmatic that we be very careful and while taking any decision regarding the separation debacle. Because in the furore to get this deal we might jeopardize our indigenous nuclear capabilities. This deal should add to our nuclear capabilities both in the civilian and military arena rather than handicap our acumen and expertise.
    Neither the politicians nor the general public understand the technicalities and complexities behind this separation except the scientists involved. It would be judicious enuf for both DAE and GOI sit and discuss the pros and cons of the separation.

  7. Pradeep: Nice effort with the CRS report. It is clear that the original agreement did’nt mention any of these.
    ‘credible’, according to whom? The deal was ‘voluntary’ separation by Indians.
    FMCT, yes, once we have access to yellow cakes from Niger which can be enriched any time, we can consider.
    CTBT, yeah give us access to Cray and we’ll see.

    It is a no-brainer why Dr. AK said ‘goal posts’ are changing. Nitin and others, let’s get the debate going. I too will post something on these. The silence on GoI’s part is worrying to say the least. Raja Mohan is monopolizing the debate by putting pressure on DAE. DAE are not opposed to separation plan, but on their terms.

  8. nuclear future of India and its power balance in the region will depend upon these negotiation..
    it must be noted that Indian nuclear capability is developed mostly indigenous and India is not the signatory of NPT, CTBT etc..
    it is free to sell,provide assistance etc to any country of its wish..it defered of doing it is volunteery decision..
    since 1998 Indian show of its capabilities made it a de facto nuclear stat and it is in the Nuclear Supplier Groups (NSG) interest that India comes under its IAEA safeguard in an indirect way…
    it must be noted that each n every nuclear capable country utilized its nuce capability for strategic n economic benefit..
    for example
    US given it to Israel, japan etc
    china to Pakistan
    Pakistan traded it with north Coria..
    other country sell it for power generation to there selected NPT signatury country..

    INDIA opposed the Discriminatory NPT for last 30 yrs..
    which was imbalanced towards nuclear states..now either India should be on positive side of that or ….
    what facilities should be under peaceful and what comes under military n strategic should be decided by us only and not enforced by USA or others..

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  10. How is this for a deal?

    1) Provide a one-time shipment of LEU to Tarapur in exchange for a guarentee not to use this uranium in weapons production.

    A possible extension of (1) is that other plants deemed civilian could also be given similar one time shipments. Once a plant is declared civilian – it cannot be redescribed as military.

    2) In exchange for a relaxation of curbs on Indian companies and R&D establishments we will work on research and development on issues that are benificial to both economies.

    The most immediate extension of (2) is that in exchange for a lifetime supply of Uranium to Tarapur, India could agree to co-produce nuclear power reactors with the US. This would imply US and Indian firms working together to develop and implement new civilian reactor technologies. In the long run this will result in much needed relief for the beleagured civilian nuclear sector in the US and improve *large scale* manufacturing ability in India.

    Everthing else is up for discussion.

    Too much of what is being talked about in the lay press is not in the July agreement. Rationalization of the hype that accompanied the July agreement is
    perhaps necessary.

    Non-prol types and their allies in the media are bent on hyping the deal as it totally undercuts their political position.

    Regards
    s./

  11. It is impossible for the PMO to disagree with the DAE – they are one and the same.

    It is important to distinguish between those who talk for the PMO and those that are the PMO.

    The Indian Express is a shill.

    FBR and other establishments will open their doors to Americans – the day that LANL, LLNL and “Area 51” open their doors to Indians.

    an eye for an eye.

  12. Raja Mohan wrote another op-ed – this time he actually has something of substance to say. While he talks about benefits to Indian civil nuclear program, he doesn’t talk about the impact on strategic nuclear program and doesn’t address DAE concerns. It’s still not clear to me how India can maintain perpetual minimum deterrence against existing foes (even if one ignores future ones).

    Sunil, I think the July 18 nuclear deal does open LANL and LLNL – the civil side at least – to Indians. One reason why the Chinese (who already have access to these sites under NPT) could add nuclear power generation capacity so quickly although they started decades late. As far as Area 51 is concerned – you think DAE is so interested in conducting experiments on Martians? 🙂

  13. Chandra,

    IIRC LANL, LLNL etc… have closed compounds where Indians are not allowed. If the US is willing to open those to Indians – I can’t imagine why India will not be able to come up with a reciprocal gesture.

    As regards Area 51 – if as you say – there are martians in there – I think is best that DAE is a part of any ongoing research into these things. If there are no Martians there – it would not hurt DAE’s interests to know what else goes on there.

    The problem right now is that we in India would not know know a martian even if we saw one. Let me give an example, lets say that in that sea of sand between Jaisalmer and Jodhpur a strange object falls from the sky. How would we know that it wasn’t something the martians had made. I guess we could look for little green men with two heads inside – but lets say we didn’t find any thing – how would we know that is was something a martian made and not say something our oh-so-great Pakistani neighbors made. I mean we all know how many wonderful weapons Allah had granted the super-duper faithful Pakistanis and their mighty airforce right? Chuck Yeager told us all about it. So how would we know that this was something not-even-the-PAF had?

    I fear that in order to distinguish between something the Pakistanis have and something that even-they-don’t-have we would need access to some very sophisticated research facilities like the kind one could reasonably expect to find at a place like Area 51 – assuming ofcourse that martians do exist and they do travel around in saucer shaped objects. And even if Martians don’t exist, it never hurts to know a few things that might help you distinguish between something the Pakistanis might put into the sky and something they could definetely *not* put into the sky.

    From what I hear their super-fuper-mushak technology is way way way ahead of even the LCA and the GSLV. With such fantastically superior neighbors that are constantly surpassing India’s best weapons technology – it couldn’t hurt for India to have a hand!

    The way I see it – a trip to Area 51 by our scientists could finally answer the question that has troubled me for so long – Are the Pakistanis … really just space aliens?

    I would love to say that I can come up with more nonsense than the average Non-Proliferation mullah but despite my best efforts on this thread, I fear I am falling short. I am actually making sense – dear me.. I have failed again.

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