“We cannot afford to miss the bus.” With these words spoken away from the din in Parliament, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh chose the coastal birthplace of India’s nuclear power programme to tell the nation a ‘few simple truths’ about boarding the world’s nuclear renaissance or missing the bus.
“We do not enjoy the luxury of an either-or choice. India needs energy from all known and likely sources,” he said.
Without once saying ‘123’ or directly referring to the fierce debate with the Left over the India-US civil nuclear deal, Singh spoke to scientists and engineers who built the old India’s first nuclear power plants in the late ’60s and designed the new India’s latest, costliest and largest twin 540 MW plants at Tarapur — about 100 km off Mumbai — which he dedicated to the nation. They interrupted him only to applaud. It was an apt platform to strategically reiterate the government’s stance by linking the removal of ‘iniquitous shackles’ with India’s energy needs, security, economic growth and national interest.
<b1>“We need to pave the way for India to benefit from nuclear commerce without restrictions… we need to supplement our uranium resources from elsewhere… we must take decisive steps to avoid disruptions in nuclear power production,’’ Singh said. Significantly, he emphasised that the cooperation will not be dependent on any one country. “We will source supplies from many countries in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), including the US, Russia, France and Japan,” the PM said.
While the Left opposes negotiation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Singh made a case for it. “Our international cooperation cannot become effective until the NSG adapts its guidelines to enable nuclear commerce with India. The NSG has made it clear that they will not do so till the India-specific Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA is finalised,” he added.
Once these steps are taken, said Singh, India can begin civil nuclear cooperation with all 45 Nuclear Suppliers Group members.
“India is now too important a country to remain outside the international mainstream in this critical area."
Singh pointed out that India is growing at nine per cent per year, with the prospect of even higher growth rates.
“I have no doubt whatsoever that sustainability of our economic growth is critically dependent on our ability to meet future energy requirements," he added.
Maharashtra holds India’s largest cluster of nuclear power plants and the Tarapur 540 MW reactor designs will be modified for future 700 MW indigenous reactors. India’s target nuclear power generation is 20,000 MW by 2020, which, the PM said, can be ‘doubled’ with international cooperation.