Done deal: Why nuclear agreement with Japan is good for India

  • Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Dec 13, 2015 02:15 IST
Japanese PM Shinzo Abe and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi share a moment while signing the agreement at Hyderabad House in New Delhion Saturday. According to a senior Indian official, “having the Japanese on your side, makes nuclear arrangements with other countries much easier.” (Reuters)

India will be able to access a new generation of nuclear reactors, over 1000 MW and hi-tech safety features, with the finalizing of the Indo-Japanese nuclear agreement. Sources say Westinghouse is readying to offer a deal under which India would buy six of its state-of-the-art AP1000 reactors by March next year.

Though a US-based firm, Westinghouse is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Japanese firm Toshiba.

Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Shinzo Abe announced on Saturday that negotiations for a bilateral civil nuclear agreement had been successfully concluded. A lot of technical details as well ratification by the Japanese Diet still have to be done, but the diplomatic work is over.

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Japanese companies are world leaders in nuclear technology, say Indian sources. Whether a reactor is French or Korean, key components like reactor vessels are the monopoly of Japanese firms like JSW. Only Russian reactors are not dependent on Japanese parts, but their reactors are limited to 1000 MW and have outdated safety technology. Indian officials noted there were actually no “American reactors”, only Japanese. Westinghouse is a Toshiba subsidiary and even the GE reactor core is built by Hitachi.

In other areas, said officials, like nuclear fuel fabrication and breeder technology the Japanese are the best or at the least very close to being so. “Having the Japanese on your side, makes nuclear arrangements with other countries much easier,” said a senior Indian official.

The negotiations went on to the last minute, say Indian and Japanese sources. Even as Abe arrived in India on Friday the two sides were still talking. “The last parts were agreed on Friday night, but we received confirmation from Tokyo only on Saturday morning,” said one of the negotiating team. Joint secretary (Disarmament) Amandeep Singh and his Japanese counterpart Takeshi Osuga led the respective teams, though difficult issues were sent up to foreign secretary S Jaishankar and Japanese deputy oreign minister Shinsuke Sugiyama.

Read | India-Japan sign major deals: Full text of joint statement

India and Japan have struggled with civil nuclear talks since New Delhi struck a similar deal with Washington. Because of the Hiroshima-Nagasaki legacy, Tokyo had asked for further commitments from New Delhi on issues like nuclear testing and disarmament. India, however, insisted it could not go beyond what it had agreed to with the US. “All the countries we have since signed civil nuclear agreements would have asked for similar concessions,” said an Indian official.

The diplomatic compromise was to explore areas of nuclear cooperation which were not covered in detail in the Indo-US agreement, said Japanese sources. “This way the substantive part of the detail remained true to the template of the Indo-US agreement,” said an Indian official. One of these grey areas that the two found common ground was nuclear safety, a Japanese concern since their own Fukushima disaster. “That was something prominent with the Japanese public and plus for India as well,” the official added.

Read | Now, Japan will import cars from India, says PM Modi

It is known that earlier rounds of negotiations were successful in everything except three areas. Two of them were resolved in talks between April and October. The last pending issue revolved around termination – the circumstances under which Japan could cancel the agreement – and how this would affect bilateral work in the ultra-sensitive field of reprocessing technology. Reprocessing allows a country to separate potentially weapons-grade plutonium from nuclear waste.

Reportedly there are some tricky areas where India and Japan have reached a gentleman’s agreement to not write down specific clauses, but allow the other side to revert to its own internal procedures.

“This was not an easy deal for Japan,” said an Indian source. But Prime Minister Abe realized that their mutual hopes for a bilateral strategic relationship could not move forward beyond a point unless the nuclear speedbump was removed.

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