To Deal, Or Not To?

The agreement between US and India on ‘full civil nuclear energy cooperation’ is an important landmark in the future of nuclear power generation in India. Since the deal was signed on July 18, 2005, a heated debate has ensued over the logic and sustainability of the deal. While the government attempts to justify its stand, there are others who question it.

The Hyde Act or Henry J. Hyde United States – India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act, 2006, is the legal framework for a bilateral pact between the United States and India. Under this Act, the U.S. will provide access to civilian nuclear technology and right to use nuclear fuel in exchange for I.A.E.A. safeguards on civilian Indian reactors. This act provides the legal basis for a 123 Agreement with India.

Those who see the deal as beneficial for India argue that the deal grants nuclear power status to India, which the country was deprived so far. This ends an era of sanctions and hostilities against India from the members of Nuclear Suppliers Group, and the removal of Indian nuclear entities from the black list. The deal addresses the growing concern for energy security in India to generate up to 40,000 MW or more of nuclear power, as against the present potential of 7000 MW of nuclear power generation.

The concern regarding the sustainability of nuclear power reactors at Tarapur has been taken care of. The deal ensures a continuous supply of fuel to the reactors and thus, ends the speculation over the future of Tarapur nuclear power reactors. Further, the deal marks the acceptance by US of India as a new global power.

The US has ensured India’s participation in Generation IV -International Forum, which aims to generate nuclear fission energy at a competitive rate, while ensuring the use of safe technology, which cannot be used for proliferation purposes. It is not only in the field of nuclear fission energy in which India is to benefit from the deal, but also, US has agreed to ensure India’s participation in International Thermonuclear experimental research reactor, which is expected to generate 500 MW of nuclear fusion power by the year 2015.

However, there are many who argue that disadvantages of the deal outweigh its benefits. They say that the deal is more of give than take. While India has made long term commitments, US have made only promises, which too are subject to certain conditions like approval by the US Congress. The deal makes it obligatory for India to separate its civilian and nuclear facilities which is not only an expensive exercise, but also quite difficult.

Further, the deal denies India any flexibility in deciding the size of its nuclear deterrents. It places an external control over India’s objective of achieving ‘credible minimum nuclear deterrents’. This will affect the ongoing research projects in the nuclear field, as it is difficult to assign the purposes of research for civilian and nuclear use.

Further, the moratorium India announced on conducting nuclear test experiments will no longer be voluntary and it will be binding on India. By agreeing to work with US in concluding the Fissile Material Cut off Treaty (FMCT), India has foreclosed its options of FMCT even before the negotiations of treaty have begun. Moreover, signing of the treaty does not mark a step towards recognition of India as a growing global power. It is a strategic move by US to check the growing nuclear power of China and create a balance in the region. The tilt of the deal towards US is further made evident by India’s stand at IAEA, when it voted against Iran.

The main opposition party is the Left which stems from their natural opposition to anything American and its capitalist views. Following its tradition with great pride the Left have consistently opposed the bill while they have supported every arms deal with Russia. BJP has opposed the bill stating that it might compromise on the nuclear arsenal of India despite being the one who started the negotiations in the first place.

Top bureaucrats, military Chiefs and scientists have consistently supported the bill and there is no reason to doubt their expert judgment. It is these people who have made this bill come to life. Even the very learned former President Mr. A.P.J Abdul Kalam has expressed support for the bill. What truly matters is the opening up of the channel of nuclear fuel to India which is possible if India signs this bill.

Finally, it can be said that the deal marks an important step for India as it recognizes India at par with other nuclear powers, though there are domestic hurdles with US lawmakers seemingly miffed that administration has not consulted them before signing the deal. Also, as a prerequisite to implementation of the deal, US Congress has to amend two crucial laws that prohibit nuclear supplies to India, i.e. 1954, Atomic Energy Act and 1978,Nuclear non-proliferation Act. This is subject to the condition of separation of military and civilian nuclear reactors by India. At the moment, it can be said that the sincerity of US for Indian concerns will only unfold after some initial homework by both the parties.

Sayan Das

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