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Nuke-switch option not clear: PM

The PM admits there is a question mark over the inter-changeability option ? from civilian to military and vice versa.

india Updated: Aug 24, 2006 01:05 IST

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh admitted in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday that there was a question mark over the inter-changeability option — from the civilian to military and vice versa—in the separation plan New Delhi has furnished to Washington under the proposed Indo-US nuclear deal.

The question originally was raised by the BJP’s Yashwant Sinha after the PM’s response to the Rajya Sabha debate on the nuclear issue last week. While Singh did not respond to the query in the Upper House, he addressed it as some length in the LS debate on the issue today. He said while the status was unclear on the inter-changeability question, “we will be free to build new reactors and whether to declare them civilian or military will be our option.” 

Sinha had raised the subject in the context of claims that the US has accepted India as a de jure nuclear weapons state by seeking to formalise changes in its existing legislations —to pave the way for India-specific IAEA safeguards —that bar nuclear cooperation with non-NPT States.

“If we are a de facto weapons state, do we have the inter-changeability option?” — that was Sinha’s question after the PM’s exhaustive reply to the debate.

Speaking in the Lok Sabha, the PM said he had raised Bush the concerns voiced by Indian MPs with President George W. Bush. “President Bush assured me that there will be no shifting of goalposts agreed in the July 18 joint statement of 2005.” 

As for the cost New Delhi will incur on separating its nuclear facilities, Singh said he was not in a position to divulge figures but the amount would be much less than the speculated US $40 million. “The money needed will be taken care in the normal estimation of the Department of Atomic Energy without any additional financial burden.”  

Singh pointed to the uranium shortage in India, saying the deposits would last only for the coming 30 years, for generating 10,000 mw of nuclear power. He said the deal that will facilitate uranium imports and exchange of technology will be of mutual benefit, especially because the domestic extraction costs were quite prohibitive when compared to international prices.

The PM said the separation plan would be helpful in that it would ensure greater accountability for each facility, both civilian and nuclear. He also ruled out any capping of the country’s nuclear programme under the Indo-US bilateral pact: “India has no bilateral commitment to ban nuclear tests… It is a unilateral moratorium (mentioned in the July 18 joint statement.) American inspectors will not be inspecting our facilities. That job will be restricted to the IAEA under the additional safeguards protocol (that is still to be worked out).”

Singh reaffirmed that the thorium-based prototype three-stage fast-breeder reactors were outside the purview of any inspection.  The debate lasting over two hours was initiated by the CPM’s Basudev Acharya.

Among those who also spoke were the BJP’s BC Khanduri, SP’s Mohan Singh and RJD’s DP Yadav. Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma intervened in the discussion.