India’s Civil Nuclear Programme At a Critical Stage

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Will G-8 Ban Derail India’s Nuclear Programme?

After a clean NSG Waiver to India, is it Back-Stabbing by the G-8? Is the sale of ENR critical?

There are many question marks on India’s future nuclear programme following the G-8 decision to ban the sale of enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) technology to all non-NPT countries including India. Ironically, the G-8 countries were members of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) which gave India a clean waiver of sale of nuclear reactors and nuclear fuel for civil nuclear cooperation in Vienna last September. This led to the much debated and much hated Indo-US 123 Agreement. India thus achieved this rare diplomatic victory without signing the NPT.

A study of the G-8 ban revealed that US and G8 attempts to restrict ENR sales go back to 2004 and were not India specific. As far as India was concerned last year’s NSG waiver was a unanimous decision to which G-8 countries were party and the Indo-US agreement was the culmination of that waiver and they would go by that agreement.

Indian official sources claim that India does not need ENR from abroad as it is not critical at this stage. But the only worry was there should not be an attempt to dilute the principles of Indian eligibility for full civil nuclear commerce. Though the G-8 non-proliferation statement would not be ‘binding’ on all its members, it is evident that India has fully digested the implications of what has happened at L’Aquila.

One thing is pretty clear, the doors for ENR sales to India have been closed as of now as adoption of the G-8 decision meant that countries such Russia and France would no longer be able to sell ENR components to India. More critical is the likelihood of the NSG forging a consensus along the lines of what has been agreed by the G-8 at L’Aquila.

The only silver lining being that decision would not affect India’s chances of getting nuclear reactors and fuel or the right to reprocess spent fuel on the basis of l bilateral agreement with individual suppliers. If overturned, it will affect India on cost effectiveness since all components have to be indigeneously manufactured. Dr. Anil Kakodkar has also expressed his concern over the G-8 decision.

What has India to do now? It has to react strongly as it amounts to back-stabbing by the same countries that gave a clean waiver to India last September. It would also amount to demeaning India’s status and that would not be acceptable at any cost. What is required now is an effective diplomatic initiative with G-8 countries and the US and explain the implications on India’s nuclear civil programme in the future. India needs an assurance of continued supply of nuclear fuel and reactors for its march towards achieving nuclear energy which is so critical for development as it cannot meet all its energy needs through conventional sources such as coal, water and wind.

India is following in the foot-steps of China to garner enough nuclear energy to meet the needs of the energy starved states in the country, at least to 40% by 2050. The demand in future would double as more and more industries would crop up with an equal increase in population. At some time, it may overtake China, as India marches forward to achieving the status of economic super power. A sustained and effective diplomatic thrust is needed to get an assurance from the US and NSG members to allay all fears that the G-8 decision would not dilute Indian eligibility for full nuclear commerce. If this assurance is extracted, India can sit pretty and go ahead with its nuclear programme for civil purposes. Until then, let us keep our fingers crossed.

Jai Hind.