My essay in The Friday Times: Nuclear power for a nuclear power

Civilian motivations, geopolitical implications

The debate over the India-US nuclear deal in the Indian parliament was interesting, controversial and had its dramatic moments. And though it was lost on the members of parliament, there was deep irony too. For the parliament was debating the virtues of a deal that could add to India’s power generation capacity when a large number of Indian citizens could not watch the debate live on television because of power-cuts and load-shedding.

Indeed, even without full electrification, supply has fallen short of demand by around 8 percent. In fact, during peak periods, the shortage has grown from 12.2 percent in 2002-03 to about 16.6 percent in 2007-08. More than power generation targets for 2030 (some 950GW, compared to 145 GW today) the today’s ever more frequent power cuts bring home the reality that India could do with more power, whether thermal, solar or nuclear. Indeed, it is this realisation that underpins the strategic rationale for the India-US nuclear deal. It does have geopolitical implications—those are inescapable in a deal of this nature—but if India was merely interested in increasing its nuclear arsenal it need not have gone in for this deal at all.

The nuclear deal represents a conscious decision by India to move to a different balance in the trade-off between its nuclear weapons capability and the needs of its growing economy. Some hardline strategists have argued that nothing must be allowed to come in the way of India’s development of more nuclear weapons. Now, nuclear weapons will remain rather powerful guarantors of survival and security well into the conceivable future. But mere ownership of nuclear weapons without broad, comprehensive national power is counterproductive.
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