Siddharth Varadarajan

Journalist | Writer | Analyst

"Safeguards, end to U.S. restrictions must be interlocking actions"

M.R. Srinivasan, member of the Atomic Energy Commission, spells out his worries about new conditions being imposed on India by the U.S. Congress in its draft law authorising the resumption of civilian nuclear cooperation. Excerpts from an interview.

27 July 2006
The Hindu

“Safeguards, end to U.S. restrictions must be interlocking actions”

Siddharth Varadarajan

M.R. Srinivasan, member of the Atomic Energy Commission, spells out his worries about new conditions being imposed on India by the U.S. Congress in its draft law authorising the resumption of civilian nuclear cooperation. Excerpts from an interview.

Do you feel the draft Bills being considered by the Senate and House of Representatives in the U.S. represent a shift in goalposts as far as India’s obligations under the July 2005 agreement are concerned?

There is little doubt that the draft bills being considered by the two houses of the U.S. Congress have shifted the goalposts from India’s obligations under the July 2005 agreement. The July agreement looked like an agreement between two equal parties, with reciprocal obligations. The draft bills appear like an imposition of a superior party over an inferior party. The July agreement recognised India as a responsible state with advanced nuclear technology, similar to the U.S. itself. The Indian side, at the highest level, has maintained that the agreement in no way affects India’s freedom to pursue its strategic nuclear programme and only concerns Indian access to civilian nuclear technology. However, in the statement of policy in both the House and Senate resolutions, it is stated that U.S. policy is “to achieve a moratorium on the production of fissile material for nuclear explosive purposes by India, Pakistan, and the People’s Republic of China at the earliest possible date,” in the House Resolution and it was “to achieve as quickly as possible a cessation of the production by India and Pakistan of fissile material for the nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices” in the Senate resolution. In the July agreement, India undertook to join in good faith the negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty, to be universal in nature. India supports now, as in the past, all measures towards universal nuclear disarmament, including an FMCT, but is opposed to a regional or segmented approach.

Which to your mind are the most dangerous new conditions being raised by the U.S.?

In the Senate resolution, there is a provision that any waiver on nuclear transfers to India “shall cease to be effective if the President determines that India has detonated a nuclear explosive device after the date of the enactment of this Act.” It is true that this condition is consistent with the U.S. Atomic Energy Act. India voluntarily agreed to a moratorium on tests in 1998 and this position has been reiterated in the July agreement. It is clear that India does not wish to embark on a future test unless the circumstances are compelling. However, a totally new situation would arise if the U.S. itself or China or Pakistan or some other country conducts a nuclear test. The disruption that would follow if the supply of nuclear fuel imported from the U.S. or an NSG party were to be suspended for reactors that India may have imported would indeed be serious. The linkage of supplies to non-conduct of a test is understandable in the case of non-nuclear weapon states. If India as a de facto nuclear weapon state carries out a test under compulsions of ensuring its supreme national interest, there must be an opportunity of reviewing the situation between the U.S. and India prior to any suspension of supplies. In the House resolution there is a further provision that if nuclear transfers to India are restricted pursuant to this Act, the Atomic Energy Act 1954, or the Arms Export Control Act, the President should seek to prevent the transfer to India of nuclear equipment, materials or technology from other governments in the NSG or from any other source. This provision targets India unfairly even under unusual or exceptional circumstances when India is compelled to carry out a nuclear test, in response to actions of the U.S. or some other nuclear weapon state carrying out a nuclear test.

Indian officials claim that whatever additional conditions are being imposed will not be binding on India. Do you agree?

Such an assertion by some Indian officials is incorrect. Some examples illustrate the point. The July 2005 agreement has promised full civilian nuclear cooperation. However, the Senate resolution states that “the Nuclear Regulatory Commission may not authorise pursuant to part 110 of title 10, code of Federal Regulations, licences for the export or re-export to India of any equipment, materials or technology related to the enrichment of uranium, the reprocessing of spent fuel, or the production of heavy water.” Some exceptions for this embargo are provided namely for a multinational facility participating in an IAEA approved programme to provide alternatives to national fuel cycle capabilities. India has developed its own home-grown technologies in these areas; however, it cannot accept a quarantine of this nature not applicable to other responsible countries with advanced nuclear technology.

How much of a limitation is the proposed Senate restriction on the sale of enrichment, reprocessing and heavy water technology and material to India?

In the case of the heavy water technology, India is amongst the small number of countries that have experience on an industrial scale with a number of processes. In the case of reprocessing, India has fairly large-scale plants, which have operated for several decades. In the case of enrichment, a medium scale plant has been operating for over a decade. When India expands its civilian nuclear programme manifold, it expects to take advantage of global advances to gain the best economics and operating reliability. After all, whatever input it may receive will be under IAEA safeguards. Hence the exclusion of these technologies not foreseen in the July 2005 and March 2006 agreements violates the spirit of these agreements.

U.S. officials are saying Indian scientists should not worry that the U.S. is out to trap them, that there is nothing wrong in IAEA safeguards entering into force before the U.S. lifts all restrictions. What is your opinion on the sequencing of steps?

The sequencing of actions under the July 2005 agreement is very important. India cannot agree to IAEA safeguards entering into force on the civilian segment of the Indian nuclear programme prior to the U.S. lifting its restrictions and the NSG deciding on an exemption for India. All these three actions must take place simultaneously. As a person who negotiated the Tarapur Agreement of 1963 and lived with its vicissitudes for some 30 years, I would strongly advise the Government of India not to accept any U.S. suggestion to de-link the three mutually interlocking actions. If any one of these actions is not taken, clearly all the three actions would be unimplementable.

What kind of safeguards agreement and Additional Protocol should India sign with the IAEA that will safeguard its R&D and national security interests from intrusive inspections? Would these be acceptable to the U.S. Congress?

The safeguards applicable under the standard IAEA Additional Protocol has been drawn up specifically for non-nuclear weapon states and is highly intrusive and comprehensive. India has experience with IAEA safeguards on reactors (TAPS 1&2, RAPS 1&2) fuel fabrication at NFC where imported enriched uranium is processed, fuel reprocessing on a campaign mode when treating spent fuel from RAPS 1&2 and the Away from Reactor Storage of spent fuel at Tarapur. India has had no problem with the implementation of these IAEA safeguards. India cannot accept any obligations to inform the IAEA about activities undertaken at the R&D centres or manufacturing on production facilities not notified as civilian. Naturally no information on activities connected with national security can be shared with any outside organisation such as the IAEA or the U.S. Government. The U.S. Congress is aware that other nuclear weapon countries also do not share such information with outside organisations or entities.

Some critics in India say the deal will increase our dependency on imported fuel manifold and that in the future, the country will be even more susceptible to external pressure. Do you agree with this view?

There is no doubt some substance in this concern. It is for this reason that India is keen to shift as early as possible to relying on thorium as a source of energy. However, some two or three decades are required before the country can reach that stage. We need an adequate base of heavy water and light water reactors to produce enough plutonium to start a series of fast breeder reactors. The limitation on availability of uranium in the country experienced recently has acted as a damper on faster growth of heavy water reactors though the industrial and manpower infrastructure can support a faster growth. Light water reactors imported from overseas along with the needed enriched uranium can augment the nuclear capacity in the near term and also give plutonium for starting some more fast reactors. We must also intensify exploration of uranium in India using the latest technology. Also India must access natural uranium from other countries and to the extent possible acquire `equity uranium.’ An energy basket consisting of a mixture of different fuels, obtained both from internal and external sources and diversified countries, where import is involved, would minimise the potential for energy insecurity and strengthen the country to withstand external pressures.

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This entry was posted on July 27, 2006 by in Interviews, Nuclear Issues.

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