Negotiators from the Department of Atomic Energy and the Ministry of External Affairs will visit Vienna in early January for the third, and probably final, round of negotiations for India-specific safeguards with the International Atomic Energy Agency, senior officials said.
India wants to ensure that all its concerns are reflected in the final document. Not only do these include guarantees for perpetual fuel supplies and a strategic fuel reserve for each nuclear power reactor to be placed under IAEA safeguards, the agreed document must show that India’s Separation Plan specifies a “phased” placement of its civilian reactors under safeguards.
The Separation Plan, which outlines which of its 22 atomic power reactors are civilian (14) and which remain in the military/strategic purview (8), was presented to Parliament in March 2006 and states that the process of separation would be done in a “phased manner” until 2014.
The “phased” placement of civilian reactors has to be a part of the IAEA documentation to be acceptable to India, senior officials said.
The tacit acceptance of the military/strategic nuclear weapons programme being outside the purview of the IAEA safeguards agreement is what would make the safeguards agreement India-specific, the officials said.
According to senior officials, the negotiations have not run into trouble, but are taking time because the agreement of this kind is being worked out for the first time and goes well beyond the standard format of the INFCIRC66.
These are detailed technical talks between DAE and MEA officials and the IAEA Secretariat.
Earlier safeguards agreements have been facility-specific only, making them far less complex. While the India-specific safeguards agreement being worked out would also be facility-specific, it would need to take into account features outlined in the Separation Plan.
Provisions for a strategic fuel reserve for each reactor and fuel supply guarantees are also not normally included in the standard template for IAEA safeguards agreements, but India wants to ensure that its experience at Tarapur is never repeated.
Once it has finalized a safeguards agreement that meets these concerns, India is willing to go ahead with civilian nuclear power accords with countries like France and Russia, officials said.
India started negotiating with the IAEA for India-specific safeguards when IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei met Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Anil Kakodkar on November 21, after the government’s Left allies gave the green signal.