01 March 2006

Was Bush speech a warning on separation?

Relegating India to status of `recipient state' in the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership seen as pressure tactic.

1 March 2006
The Hindu

Was Bush speech a warning on separation?

Siddharth Varadarajan

THE UNITED States is trying to do an end-run around India's stand on the proposed separation of its civilian and military nuclear facilities by suggesting that Indian participation in a new American-sponsored global nuclear initiative is conditional on the acceptance of in-perpetuity international safeguards on the overwhelming majority of its nuclear facilities, including reprocessing plants.

Indeed, President George W. Bush's reference last week to India as a country with only a "developing civilian nuclear energy program" was intended to threaten New Delhi with the prospect of continued isolation from the "international mainstream" unless it blinks and agrees to what Washington defines as a "credible, transparent and defensible plan to separate its civilian and military nuclear programs."

India's sudden demotion from the "advanced" status acknowledged by the U.S. in last July's nuclear agreement underlines the difficult road that lies ahead for New Delhi even if the two sides were to reach an agreement this week on the issue of separation. And with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh revealing in his suo motu statement to Parliament on February 27 that the negotiations with the U.S. have not yet dealt with the safeguards issue, it is safe to assume that the nature of India's safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is bound to be the next playground where goal posts are likely to be shifted by the U.S.

What has irked the Indian scientific community is the manner in which the U.S. is holding out the "carrot" of participation in its newly announced Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) in order to try and win concessions on the separation front. Describing the GNEP as "old wine in new bottles," A.N. Prasad, a former director of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, said India should not go in for "unnecessary inducements." Placid Rodriguez, former director of the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, described Mr. Bush's February 22 Asia Society speech as "very mischievous" and said the GNEP was a "devious way of enforcing norms on others." "The so-called suppliers group is giving the right to the fuel cycle only to itself. So they will dictate costs," he told The Hindu. "This is bound to be seen as an infringement of the sovereign rights of others."

GNEP and India

Shortly after the U.S. unveiled the GNEP on February 6, a senior official from the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) briefed his Indian counterparts about the logic of the proposed initiative. In a nutshell, the nuclear world is to be divided up into countries with "advanced civilian nuclear energy programs" (also called "fuel-cycle states" or "supplier nations") and "recipient states," wherein the latter undertake to forgo their right to build facilities for plutonium reprocessing or uranium enrichment in exchange for guaranteed supplies from the former of "proliferation-resistant" nuclear fuel.

Indian officials who were present at those discussions — held under the rubric of the Indo-U.S. energy dialogue — came away with the unambiguous impression that Washington considered India to be very much part of the new "high table."

Things could not have been otherwise. The Department of Atomic Energy's work on the fuel cycle goes back to 1965, when the country's first reprocessing plant was set up. Most recently, the report on Multinational Approaches to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle written by an IAEA expert group headed by Bruno Pellaud acknowledged in several places India's all-round capabilities on reprocessing and enrichment. Para 128 of the Pellaud report acknowledges India's unsafeguarded capability in enrichment (along with France, Pakistan, Russia, and the U.S.) and paras 163-164 acknowledge India's work on fast reactors. India's reprocessing credentials — including of reprocessing thorium fuel — are referred to in para 167. Among the report's co-authors was Richard Stratford from the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Non-proliferation.

Since the GNEP is intended to address the same problem as the Pellaud report — how to craft an international mechanism for the guaranteed supply of nuclear fuel that would help limit the spread of enrichment and reprocessing facilities worldwide — Indian officials assumed that the U.S. would see India as part of the solution and not part of the problem. Indeed, at the press conference where the GNEP was unveiled, a senior DoE official said that "once India has met the non-proliferation commitments that it has made and that were memorialised in the joint statement between our two heads of state last summer... we would contemplate in the future that ... they would be a great candidate for participation as well."

Which is why President Bush's reference — in his Asia Society speech — to Indian participation in the GNEP as a recipient rather than a supplier state took New Delhi by surprise. With one stroke of the pen, the U.S. President relegated India from the ranks of "leading countries with advanced nuclear technology" — the words used in the July 2005 agreement — to those who only had a "developing civilian nuclear energy program."

It was under the rubric of the GNEP, said Mr. Bush, that the U.S. and its partners would help to supply nuclear fuel to India. What he did not say explicitly was that the entire bargain of fuel supplies under the GNEP involves the recipient country giving up its right to reprocess spent fuel. The official DoE-run website for the plan states the trade-off bluntly: "Under GNEP, a consortium of nations with advanced nuclear technologies would ensure that countries who agree to forgo their own investments in enrichment and reprocessing technologies will have reliable access to nuclear fuel."

In a radio address to the nation on February 18 — one should stress American nation, since these days he has also begun addressing the Indian nation courtesy Doordarshan — Mr. Bush said "America will work with nations that have advanced civilian nuclear energy programs, such as France, Japan, and Russia. Together, we will develop and deploy innovative, advanced reactors and new methods to recycle spent nuclear fuel... As these technologies are developed, we will work with our partners to help developing countries meet their growing energy needs by providing them with small-scale reactors that will be secure and cost-effective. We will also ensure that these developing nations have a reliable nuclear fuel supply. In exchange, these countries would agree to use nuclear power only for civilian purposes and forego uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities that can be used to develop nuclear weapons."

Four days later, at the Asia Society, he placed India in that category of developing nations.

The GNEP is a formalisation of a number of initiatives proposed by Mr. Bush in a major speech on non-proliferation at the National Defense University in February 2004, the most important of which was limiting the spread of the fuel cycle. U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman amplified this concern last November. "It is important to note that in addressing reprocessing — or recycling — technologies for dealing with spent fuel, we are guided by one over-arching goal: to set a global norm of no separated plutonium," he noted in a speech to the Carnegie International Nonproliferation Conference.

In his suo motu statement to Parliament on February 27, Prime Minister Singh mentioned reprocessing and enrichment facilities as one of the "complex issues" where there were "difficulties" in the negotiations over separation with the U.S. With DAE chairman Anil Kakodkar publicly ruling out the possibility of India's uranium enrichment plant at Rattehalli going into the civilian list, scientists say the U.S. wants to see the PREFRE reprocessing plant in Tarapur under in-perpetuity IAEA safeguards. India has been placing the plant under "campaign" or temporary safeguards as and when safeguarded fuel from safeguarded reactors has to be reprocessed. But the plant is clearly dual-use and placing it under permanent safeguards would mean incurring the wasteful expense of setting up a dedicated reprocessing facility for military use.

Even if Mr. Bush's reference to India as a recipient — rather than supplier — state in the GNEP was "inadvertent" or temporary, nuclear scientists say it is not clear what benefits India will derive from the proposed plan.

The GNEP involves research into plutonium-consuming fast burner reactors, which may be important if, like the U.S., countries are entering the initiative because of proliferation concerns. "India's principal concern is energy security, so we are more interested in breeding plutonium, not burning it," Dr. Prasad told The Hindu.

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1 comment:

Mayurdas Bholanath said...

As of Feb 2006, it appears that US Department Of Energy will make a "go, no-go" decision on whether to proceed with GNEP at all or not, only after three more years of study.

Designs of the so-called proliferation-resistant reactors and the Pu separation plants applicable to this idea are, at present, only at a preliminary stage. Nuclear plant designs take a long time to mature and to be demonstrated safe. It will most likely be year 2050 before the reactors are actually "sale-worthy" to others (that is, those who are not recognised at present as Nuclear Weapons States).

At present the GNEP concept is several decades and billions of dollars away from becoming an economic, marketable product, demonstrated and licensed to be safe.

India, categorised as "User Nation", would be forever dependent on supply of enriched U fuel from the US and others.

It may be interesting to note that US says, “we will never give up our sovereign right to deny exports to anyone.” (Perkovich, Feb 24, 2006). This means that US strongly follows a policy whereby it reserves the right to stop supply of any nuclear item at any time. They will never sign an agreement which asks them to guarantee supply of fuel in perpetuity. (Probably they have enshrined this concept in a law.) On the other hand, they would insist on safeguards in perpetuity (that is, even after they have unilaterally stopped supply of fuel). This is a one way street, which we should not enter at all. [This could be one reason why Iranians are insisting on carrying out enrichment in their own soil.]

As has been observed elsewhere in these blogs, transportation of spent fuel (high seas, overland etc) would be both costly and risky, being subject to possible terrorist attacks, even if a very safe transportation methodology (design of special ship etc) is engineered.

On entering the GNEP path, India would get reduced to a vassal, bonded in perpetuity - Americans seem to like this particular word very much - paying tributes to the emperor (USA) for supply of fuel, its multiple to and fro transportation, reprocessing and waste repository charges.

The concept does not involve utilisation of Thorium which is available in plenty in India. Thorium utilisation is of great importance to us.

We are already well ahead in recovery of Pu and utilisation of Th. We must pursue that path without getting distracted.

US is trying to wean way India from technology development, primarily I think, as a long range commercial strategy, although military 'security' is a catchall reason frequently used by them in this context. The sad aspect is that this particular US bandwagon has on it, some Indian passengers too.

Our mythology is full of stories of bad guys, who make it their life-time ambition and achievement to spoil the dedicated good work of those who want to improve the lot of peoples and beings living in their surroundings. This is like a 'rakshasa', trying to distract the 'tapas' of sages.