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The fact is that the Indo US nuclear deal is in the national interest, what with Indian nuclear plants currently running at less than 50 per cent capacity for want of the fuel which the country cannot access without the IAEA agreement and the NSG waiver for nuclear trade. The agreement is a clear win-win situation for India. It will help India to not only access nuclear fuel supplies to step up generation from its existing power reactors, currently operating at no more than 30-50 per cent capacity, but also free it from sanctions that have debilitated its nuclear and more general technological progress, that too without compromising its strategic nuclear deterrence program.
Once India has given the go ahead for the deal, not only the United States, but leading NSG members like Russia, France and Britain would help the India-specific waiver come into force at the IAEA. And after it comes through; India will be able to resume trade in nuclear fuel and technology for its civilian power sector.
The draft of the safeguards agreement circulated at IAEA's Board recently and made public on 10th July, 2008; indicates that:
- India may take measures to ensure uninterrupted operation of civilian reactors in the event of the disruption of foreign fuel supplies.
- India will provide an assurance that no safeguarded and material is diverted from civilian use.
- IAEA shall avoid hampering India's development and interfering with any activity involving use by India of nuclear or non-nuclear material, equipment or technology acquired or developed by India, independent of agreement for its own purpose.
- Some nuclear materials can be exempted from safeguards. The draft agreement specifies that these may not exceed a Kg. in total fissionable material which may consist of plutonium or uranium of specified enrichment. Also exempt are 10 tonnes of natural uranium and depleted uranium as strategic reserve
Thus, after nearly three decades, India has been offered a golden opportunity to emerge out of its nuclear exclusion and be treated at par with the top nations of the world in terms of nuclear energy output. At present nuclear power production in India accounts for only a measly 3% of the total generation of 140,000 MW. Large scale nuclear power production would also mean less dependence on traditional sources of non-renewable fuel such as coal, oil and petroleum. Abundant nuclear power production would obviously lead to a fall in fuel and electricity prices. The fruits of privatization and rapid development are seen in the telecom sector. The nuclear deal could mean a similar boom in the field of energy.
It is very critical for India to have this deal fructify if we want to have 60,000-100,000 MW of nuclear power in our energy mix in the next 25 to 50 years. Given the growth of population and GDP, nuclear Power in India has the possibility of contributing 10% of our energy needs by the year 2022 and 26% of our energy needs by the year 2052. From the available uranium resources in our country, nuclear power can only yield a maximum of 10,000 MW of power, which is less than three percent of the power generated. India also has 40 percent of the world's thorium reserves. However, to reach the thorium stage, India needs the latest technology, which it can get only if it signs the deal with the US. Going it alone has not really worked for India, at least in the field of civilian nuclear energy. This deal will not only help in making India self-reliant so far as energy requirements go, but will also help in ending the country's enforced nuclear apartheid. And it should not be seen in isolation from the country's overall energy security which is in a precarious state as the recent oil price shocks illustrate. Other countries are increasingly going back to nuclear energy (and looking to follow the example of France where 80% of energy needs are met from nuclear power plants) as a relatively cleaner fuel option. Thus, China is also ramping up its domestic nuclear expansion plans, aiming for a total of 60 gigawatts by 2020 against its current nuclear capacity of only 9 gigawatts or fewer than 2 percent of its total installed power generation capacity. We on the other hand, are endangering our economic growth prospects for short term electoral prospects or due to blind ideological obduracy.
Some of our friends do not realize that there are a number of forces outside the country who are inimical to India and do not want the deal to fructify. The New York Times and the Economist have both recently carried lead articles and editorials against the deal and it has also been assailed by some US lawmakers known for their anti-India slant. The New York Times for example wrote in its editorial on July 5th 2008,
President Bush gave away far too much and got far too little for this deal. No promise from India to stop producing bomb-making material. No promise not to expand its arsenal. And no promise not to resume nuclear testing.
The soaring price of crude oil and growing concern over climate change mean that governments can no longer afford to ignore nuclear energy, the nearest thing to a non-polluting energy source capable of generating power on a large scale. It is cleaner than coal and more reliable than wind. And when this deal looks set to resuscitate our nuclear energy program without endangering our nuclear deterrent, the last thing India needs is for some of its political parties to look a proverbial gift horse in the mouth because of partisan political considerations.