24 February 2006

Bush nuclear plan demotes India

On the eve of his visit to Delhi, President Bush has revealed the true intent behind the U.S. offer of civil nuclear cooperation with India: as a "recipient" country, the Indians should rely on imported nuclear fuel and not aspire to reprocess spent nuclear fuel generated by power reactors on Indian soil.

The irony is that this kick in the pants -- part of Dubya's Asia Society speech in Washington on February 22 -- was served to India live by Doordarshan, the national television channel that normally reserves live telecasts for speeches delivered by the Indian President and Prime Minister.

24 February 2006
The Hindu

Bush plan demotes India

Siddharth Varadarajan

Says `no' to nuclear reprocessing

  • India will have to hand over spent nuclear fuel to "supplier nations" for reprocessing
  • A bid to undermine the country's civilian programme, feel Indian scientists
  • Relegated to the status of a recipient country: M.R. Srinivasan

    NEW DELHI: On the eve of his visit to South Asia, United States President George W. Bush has demoted India from the ranks of "leading countries with advanced nuclear technology" — the phrase used in the July 18, 2005 India-U.S. agreement — to those who merely have a "developing nuclear energy programme."

    This unilateral reclassification is not a minor issue. For, only countries that have "advanced civilian nuclear energy programmes" will have the right to reprocess spent nuclear fuel under Mr. Bush's proposed `Global Nuclear Energy Partnership,' of which the India-U.S. deal is "an integral part."

    In his speech to the Asia Society in Washington on Wednesday, India was named a country that would have to hand over its spent nuclear fuel to a handful of "supplier nations" for reprocessing, forgoing, in the bargain, its right to reprocess the waste generated from its civilian nuclear programme.

    "Under this partnership," Mr. Bush said, "America will work with nations that have advanced civilian nuclear energy programmes such as Great Britain, France, Japan and Russia to share nuclear fuel with nations like India that are developing civilian nuclear energy programs."

    The supplier nations would then collect the spent nuclear fuel and invest in new methods to reprocess that fuel "so that it can be used for advanced new reactors." This strategy "will allow countries like India to produce more electricity from nuclear power ... it will decrease the amount of nuclear waste that needs to be stored and reduce the risks of proliferation."

    There is an irony here for New Delhi, which is backing the U.S. in its attempts to get Iran to forgo its right to enrich uranium or reprocess plutonium: Mr Bush is saying that in his plans India, too, must rely on imported fuel and not be involved in reprocessing.

    Mr. Bush's proposal has upset Indian nuclear scientists, who see it as an attempt to undermine India's civilian programme, including the fast breeder and the use of thorium, which crucially depend on reprocessing of spent fuel.

    "Even though India set up its first reprocessing plant in Trombay in 1965, Bush has relegated us to the status of a recipient country," says M.R. Srinivasan, member, Atomic Energy Commission. "This is a major breach of the basis of the July 18 agreement. India cannot be lumped together with countries which are said to be developing their nuclear programmes, with countries which do not have enrichment and reprocessing facilities."

    Dr. Srinivasan said any attempt to pursue this proposal would "not only negate any chance of nuclear rapprochement between India and the U.S. but would raise new obstacles as well."

    Other scientists said that even the Pellaud Committee — set up by the International Atomic Energy Agency last year to examine multinational nuclear facilities — noted that India was one of those countries which had achieved complete mastery over the front and back ends of the nuclear fuel cycle.

    "I don't know who has advised Mr. Bush on this matter," said Dr. Srinivasan. "This proposal appears to be the handiwork of the old guard of non-proliferationists in the American establishment."

    © Copyright 2000 - 2006 The Hindu


    Anonymous said...

    The Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) concept being propagated by Bush to cap India's ability to reprocess spent fuel from its reactors has, according to me, the following fatal flaws.

    1. India is supposed to agree to ship its spent fuel to one of the "handful of supplier nations" for reprocessing.

    Everyone knows that this is precisely what India agreed to when the contract for US designed BWRs at Tarapur was signed. Everyone also knows that US subsequently reneged its obligations under the contract and has refused to take the spent fuel back, leaving India in a trishanku-like limbo. India can neither reprocess it nor get rid of it by shipping it back to the US. India is forced to store and look after the highly radioactive fission products in the spent fuel, literally for millennia to come. Dr P.K Iyengar was reported to have suggested, soon after the news about this deal with the US was announced, that this issue should first be resolved. It is interesting to note that in all this cacophony, apart from Dr Iyengar's lone voice, no one else is talking of the disposal of the spent fuel from the American BWRs in India.

    This drama is bound to be enacted in future too, again and again, at the whims and fancies of whichever Administration happens to be in power in the US.

    2. Shipment of spent fuel across international borders or via sea, in the near future at least, is fraught with dangers and extremely costly. We know, for instance, that spent fuel shipments from France and England to Japan have always attracted severe opposition from environmentalists. Add to this, the threats posed on the high seas by terrorist organisations. There is every chance that shipments of spent fuel out of India will be stalled forever.

    I understand that spent fuel surface transport (from reactor to reprocessing plant) has been carried out successfully with high degree of safety and security within India. Even so, it may not be possible to do this in all cases, say for example where there are difficult terrains to cross. So, co-location of reprocessing plants with the NPP (as is the case in Kalpakkam) is an option that would surely come up in the future, to limit transport of spent fuel even within India.

    In this scenario, international transport of spent fuel out of India is likely to continue to be even more difficult for many years to come.

    So, India must avoid getting into a position that will continue to keep it vulnerable to spent fuel blackmail.

    The spent fuel from a PHWR contains valuable wealth. After the unwanted fission products are separated from the spent fuel, one could harvest, besides Uranium and Plutonium, other elements too, which in future, might prove to be extremely useful both for power production and as tactical materials. In recent times, "Accelerator Driven Systems", "Intense Neutron Generator Systems" (which was an earlier Canadian avatar of ADS), "transmutation of fission products" (to render them mostly non-radioactive and hence safe for disposal), "burning of actinides" and "trans-uranium elements in islands of stability" have become some of the buzzwords in dealing with nuclear reactor spent fuel. No country will "share" this technololgy, certainly not for free. India can simply not afford to give up its rightful place in the developmental efforts to master this facet of nuclear energy.

    US has floated the GNEP concept with a long-range view to prevent India from becoming a competitor in this highly lucrative field. India must avoid this trap at all costs, and continue with its own R&D with redoubled vigour.

    Finally, even nearly 220 days after the "misbegotten pact" (See "India, Oil and Nuclear Weapons", The New York Times Op-Ed, Published February 19, 2006) was signed, and after several statements about credibility mainly emanating from the US, the so-called separation plan is as transparent to Indians as the nearest black hole in the vicinity of our solar system.

    Anonymous said...


    If I recall correctly, india has the worlds largest reserve of thorium.

    I assumed that Iran would be a special case being denied certain rights, its now clear that US will demote other devoloping countries aswell.


    Anonymous said...

    First of all, Americans have no business telling others about non-proliferation when they themselves have so many weapons. Seondly,India is the world's largest democracy and you cannot unitlaterally impose your views on a billion strong nation. The leader of the free world is the last person who should be doing that. Dubiya, tu dubgaya.

    Anonymous said...

    Hi All,
    I guess India is treading real dangerous territory now when negotiating this area with US. We need to keep the following as our guiding principles whatever are the other terms.

    1. We should not give up any rights in letter or spirit which are enjoyed by U.S. (or other country). (i.e. if they can reprocess spent fuel, so can we. etc.)
    2. We should agree to only those kind of controls and inspections what these countries themselves are subject to. (i.e. if they are not allowing IAEA to see some of their facilities we also won't etc.)

    We do not have any right to bind our future generations, or relegate them to a second class nation status, just because we do not know a thing or two about nuclear technology today. If not today, perhaps the next generation might discover how to do wonders with thorium. Or the economic situation might turn upside down and US might start hawking the nuclear technology its carefully guarding today, for a good price, which we might be able to afford.

    So if we have blocked our options by then, then the future generations won't forgive the shortsightedness of the decision-makers of today.

    However any deal which is fair, which treats all countries as equals (i.e. where the above points 1 and 2 are taken care), and that advances our nuclear research should be welcome.

    If required we should even build a movement with momentum before any damage is done.


    Anonymous said...


    This comment is not related to your blog, but made in the hope, that since you are associated with The Hindu, you would be in better position to answer my question.

    After 1998 nuke explotion, a good segment of Indian Left (I dont have numbers with me, but qualitatively speaking), aligned itself with no-Indian-nukes constituency. As a result they were very visible in participating and leading protest marches against Op Shakti. The sentiment behind Indian Left of getting the rid of the nukes from the world is appreciated. But the reality of nukes, and infact improvement of effectiveness of the nuke arsenal of the world, is a reality which one cannot ignore. While anti nuke marchers might have enjoyed media limelight, they seriously failed to explain an alternative path that would be congruant to their position simultaneously satisfying Indian strategic objectives. The Hindu at that time and even before the nuke tests, gave a platform to anti-nuke constituents. The debate was good and made explicit the realities which forced India's hand at 98 nuke test.(ref Perkovich's book on Indian nukes).

    The reason I bring up history because it current opposition of Indian Left to nuke deal is sounding hollow. The very vocal segments of Indian left who opposed Shakti are now leading protest marches against nuke deal. It is not clear whether it is knee-jerk anti-americanism of Indian Left or is there a sinister design by Indian Left to exploit this prevailing anti-american mood to shakle indian strategic position. You see the very first reaction of China was vehement opposition, but currently they have mellowed down when asked why specifically they would want to curtail Indian energy needs. And Indian Communists have left no one in doubt how much they appreciate pat on their backs from their namesakes in China. And Indian Communists have a dominant position in Indian Left.

    Now to my question. Can you explain from your vantage position at The Hindu why Indian Left is opposing the deal? You see the arguments propounded by them that it would curtail Indian stratgic establishment is hallow, since in just 8 odd years these fellows cannot transform from anti-nuke marchers to defenders of Indian Strategic independence!! Are they unhappy about the deal since it would give DAE more freedom, a de-facto ack that India is NWS and possible membership in NSG and the GNEP( that is a castle in clouds)? There is a significant difference between following the two positions

    a) Oppose any nuke deal that curtails Indian strategic forces. We see NDA/DAE here.

    b) Oppose any nuke deal since it gives India more strategic freedom and a way out of nuke pariah status. This is shared by Non Pro Ayatollahs, some anti-nuke preachers themselves living under nuke umbrealla like Japan and China, no matter what it says in public.

    The question is whether Indian Left is still sanguine with their Communist brothers in China. You defintely are at a vantage position being at Hindu group to answer this question. It will clear lot of air.

    Anonymous said...

    Well what is the current agreement
    I am unable to find the answers to the following question
    (1)How long will india keep the spent
    fuel? ie when will the supplier country take it back.
    (2)Can India use some of this PU for
    energy generation in FBR?
    (3)Can a military reactor be connected
    to power grid?
    (4) At what stage can india test weapon
    given that there were some more data
    that is needed.
    (5)Will India be allowed to sell technology? Since india has a good deal of experience working w/ thorium and mox fuel, can indian private companies
    commercialize this OR can indian government undertaking sell this to other countries.
    India has already sold heavy water on a couple of occasions....
    how do those aspects work.
    Readers/Siddhartha Please point links/answers to my questions thanks