Journalist | Writer | Analyst
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told Parliament on February 27 that India was offering to place “a number of our thermal nuclear reactors as civilian facilities to be placed under IAEA safeguards, amounting to roughly 65% of the total installed thermal nuclear power capacity, by the end of the separation plan”.
The fast-breeder programme will be kept out of safeguards but there are a lot of imponderables here as far as India’s existing and planned pressurised heavy water reactors are concerned. For one, we don’t know when the end of the separation plan will be. And we don’t know if the PM’s formulation refers to operating and under-construction reactors or yet-to-be-planned ones.
R. Ramachandaran in The Hindu has attempted to translate what the 65-35 split in terms of power capacity might mean in terms of actual reactors. His conclusion is that probably the operational 2×220 MWe plants of MAPS 1 & 2, KAPS 1 & 2, and Kaiga 1 & 2 and the 2×540 MWe plant of TAPS 3 & 4 will be out of safeguards. Ramachandaran says it remains to be seen whether this logic would be acceptable to the U.S. or not. “Because if these are not on the civilian list, it implies that they are militarily significant. And that may be hard to justify given the amount of unsafeguarded plutonium that these off-safeguards PHWRs would generate. That would seem to be much more than what would be required to fuel the unsafeguarded breeder programme.”
Writing in the Indian Express, G. Balachandran feels Manmohan is taking a huge gamble by proposing to retain this much capacity outside of safeguards. “It is open to question”, he concludes, “whether this level of civilian/military separation will be acceptable to NSG members”.
So wil there be a deal when President Bush comes to Delhi? My personal feeling is that there probably will, given the high political stakes on both sides, although this will also mean a postponement of hardball negotiations on other issues, especially safeguards.