15 August 2006

'Set ground rules on nuclear deal' , say scientists

India's senior-most nuclear scientists have written to Members of Parliament warning that the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal infringes on indigenous research and development, and that the country should guard against accepting "any agreement in perpetuity" until such time the final aim of universal nuclear disarmament is realised.

15 August 2006
The Hindu

'Set ground rules on nuclear deal'

Siddharth Varadarajan

New Delhi: Concerned by the legislative shape the India-U.S. nuclear agreement is taking in Washington, a group of senior nuclear scientists has called on Parliament to take a "unanimous decision" rejecting any "restraint in perpetuity" on the country's freedom of action or research capabilities in the nuclear field.

The statement, signed by eight top scientists, including three former chairmen of the Atomic Energy Commission, is likely to strengthen the Left's demand for Parliament to adopt a resolution highlighting India's concerns about the deal.

"Unacceptable to India"

The scientists hail the July 18, 2005 agreement with the U.S. and welcome India's prospective entry into the "international nuclear community."

But they say the U.S. Congress has "modified ... the implementation of [the] agreement" and that if the draft U.S. law is passed in the present form, "the `product' will become unacceptable to India." Stressing that it will be difficult to scrap these modifications once legislated, the scientists say Parliament must "work out, and insist on, the ground rules for the nuclear deal, at this stage itself."

The statement identifies four areas of concern. First, that India "cannot accede to any restraint in perpetuity on [its] freedom of action" as far as the strategic requirements of its nuclear option are concerned. "Universal nuclear disarmament must be our ultimate aim and until we see the light at the end of the tunnel... we cannot accept any agreement in perpetuity."

Second, they say India's capability in sensitive technological areas should not be subjected to external control and that safeguards should be "strictly restricted to those facilities and materials imported from external sources."

Third, the U.S. draft law "infringes on [India's] independence for carrying out indigenous R&D in nuclear science and technology" and Parliament should ensure that Indian research and design is "not hampered by external supervision or control." Finally, say the scientists, it is Parliament's right to decide "the basic principles" on which the nuclear deal will be implemented and it must act now.

The signatories are H.N. Sethna, M.R. Srinivasan and P.K. Iyengar, all former chairmen of the AEC, A. Gopalakrishnan, former chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, S.L. Kati, former director of the Nuclear Power Corporation, A.N. Prasad, former director of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Y.S.R. Prasad, former chairman and managing director of NPC, and Placid Rodriguez, former director of the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research.


Mayurdas Bholanath said...

I would like to go one step beyond the submissions of our most eminent nuclear scientists and engineers to the Honourable Members of Parliament.

Do we really need this deal? I think not.

Lack of Natural Uranium in our country is cited as a reason for the deal.

In a recent interview Mr Siddharth Varadarajan had with Dr M.R Srinivasan (published in the Hindu 27/07/2006), it has been indicated that limitation on availability of Uranium is being experienced recently.

Could we not have foreseen the recent unavailability of fuel? Have we determined the cause(s) for the mismatch between mining of uranium and its utilisation, to avoid its recurrence in the future?

Is it that the capacity and availability factors of more than 80% posted consistently by PHWRs in the last few years have exceeded planners' earlier pessimistic expectations (consistent with a difficult technology) of 65 to 70%, which might have been sufficient at that time to achieve break-even performance?

Where does the remedy lie now (other than the ruinous path of signing the sell-out deal in return for "kind permission" from the US to import fuel)?

Ms Condoleezza Rice has already given enough hints to let India know that U.S. is planning to shove at least two U.S. made npps down our throat as Shylock's proverbial pound of flesh. U.S hasn't yet built and proven on its own soil, the reactors that it wants India to buy. [A project was commenced in Taiwan but it has turned out to be stillborn due to public opposition]. "India will do very well as test laboratory, thank you". India has gone through this before (although it must be added, at that time - late 1960s - India was not as advanced in nuclear technology as now). The first two PHWRs at Rajasthan were built even before their sister plant at Douglas Point, Canada went into commercial production (of electricity). The Canadians, have long since closed this reactor, because afflicted with many technical problems, it became unviable. Rajasthan-1 is now virtually unusable as a commercial electricity generating plant. It is with a lot of effort, and under strong, enlightened leadership provided by the signatories of the present plea to the parliamentarians that India has been able to absorb, master and build upon this technology - sadly, only to put it under the intrusive inspection regime of the U.S. and its proxy IAEA, now.

Can India afford to spend money on imported npps on the scale envisaged now (which could be seen as being as optimistic as it was in the case of the severely cash-strapped "10000 by 2000" campaign) even if the supplier nations agree to give credit facilities? Maybe money can be better spent (from a long-range perspective) in further increasing the "localisation content" of PHWRs and fast breeders that we are building now.

It is said that in the neutron-economical PHWR, amongst various factors, the cost of fuel is expected to play a less significant role in the Unit Energy Cost. Perhaps, even with the increased cost of Indian natural uranium (said to be arising out of lower extractable uranium content in the ore), the economics is likely to work out more in favour of indigenous PHWR as opposed to an imported npp using enriched uranium.

Keeping in view that npps cannot be located just anywhere you like and that the number of well-suited sites, meeting a host of stringent technical requirements and economic criteria, are rather limited, have plans been drawn up to overcome opposition from land-dispossessed persons (who may have a few genuine problems), and their band-wagoners?

Rather than building new npps just now (over and above those for which construction work has already been started), perhaps this is just the right moment for India to temporarily pause and massively concentrate on perfecting, on an industrial scale, techniques for disposal of high-level radioactive waste from the reprocessed spent fuel using the transmutation technology. India can and must attempt to become a world leader in this field (irrespective of what U.S. and other advanced countries do). Engineering and scientific manpower may even be redeployed towards this target, if necessary. India must also set targets and achieve a much smaller footprint (for the plant and its surrounding zones) in the design of its future npps. These developments, combined with good performance of the plants in operation, might ultimately lead to enhanced public acceptance. In the meanwhile, apart from making vigorous efforts to prospect and mine Natural Uranium, commercial npp technologies based on fast breeder and thorium utilisation can be developed and fine-tuned further, in parallel.

Dr. M R Iyer said...

The technological capability of India in the field of atomic energy was internationally accepted from fifties. However India had withheld demonstrating its capability for testing a nuclear explosive for a long time till 1974 when it carried out its first nuclear testing at Pokhran in Rajasthan. As a consequence of this all International co operation with India was terminated by western powers. India is one of the few countries who have mastered the technological skill on all aspects of nuclear fuel cycle, including fast reactors and operates today about 16 nuclear power reactors of its own design in spite of being sidelined from the world community. However India continued to maintain its impeccable record on controlling nuclear proliferation.

The Indo US nuclear agreement envisages India to keep its nuclear weapons deterrent developing capability but has to bring its civilian nuclear reactors under the nuclear safeguards and the flood gates of international co operation in the field of nuclear energy will be opened up. All looked bright since the Indian technological capability was the best, only it was under strain due to the embargo on availability of nuclear material and hardware from abroad particularly in the light of its limited uranium resources.

But some of the provisions of the bill as reported mentions the US President submitting annually to the Senate committees an estimate of uranium mined, the rate of production of fissile materials for explosives and the rate of production of nuclear explosive devices by India.

It is clear that these provisions are contrary to what was agreed upon in the Bush-Manmohan Singh agreement and are bound to put a restraint on the country deciding its own nuclear deterrent capability and exposes the real intention of the agreement. Further declaring defense related information such as how many nuclear bombs you make to another country is unheard of in any other international agreements. No self respecting Government can agree to such conditions. The bill aims at only having more stringent controls which cannot be even explicitly be put into a safeguard agreement with the IAEA under the NPT treaty.

We are compelled to surmise that the objective of the deal is to bring India under a special non-proliferation regieme in an indirect way reminiscent of how the British landed in India starting with a trade agreement!

M R Iyer
Former IAEA Inspector

Dr.M.R.Iyer said...

India approaceds NSG to get cleared for nuclear supplies

The opening up of the nuclear industry to the global mainstream is a long cherished wish of the Indian scientific community. And it has to happen sooner or later and we hope it will without getting India into a loop!

It was an Indian Dr. Homi Bhabha who presided over the first Geneva Conference in 1955 which for the first time opened up nuclear technology to the world following President Eisenhower’s atoms for peace program. It is an anachronism that India who along with other nations was instrumental in opening up the technology to the world is now knocking at the door to get admitted. Dr Bhabha was one of the originators of the International Atomic Energy Agency and India a member of the Council which formed the IAEA. During this half century we have gone through several vicissitudes in isolation but the Indian nuclear technology stood the tests and matured well.

Let us not forget that it was again an Indian, Prof.S.N.Bose who gave the world in 1924 the Bose Einstein Statistics, a corner stone in Nuclear Physics. One of the earliest measurements of fission cross section was made in the corridors of Calcutta University much before the world woke up to Hiroshima. Today it is a quirk of fate when we are asked to go to the 45 Nation NSG group countries to allow us to get into the mainstream when many of them even today have to learn nuclear technology from us!