One of the major concerns that had been raised [in Parliament during the August 17, 2006 debate] related to India’s right to conduct further nuclear weapon tests. These issues are largely covered by Article 13 and 14, which deals with “consultations” and “termination and cessation of cooperation” respectively. To enable us to get an idea of the efficacy of these provisions, several nuclear weapons testing scenarios can be visualised that could potentially disrupt the Agreement. By carrying out such an exercise it is evident that under all such scenarios, there is no possibility of the US taking actions that would disrupt civilian nuclear power production in the country. Through a set of interlocking and interrelated provisions reflected in Articles 13 and 14 of the Agreed Text, it would appear it is extremely difficult for the US to take back the equipment and materials that it would have supplied to India. In case it does so, it would have to pay a very high environmental and economic cost.
Second, I may recall in this connection the assessment of R. Chidambaram, former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, after Pokhran II about the adequacy of the data from the five tests for perfecting the weapons. Further refinements could be carried out by laboratory simulations for which we have the necessary capability.
Third, granting that such a test becomes necessary in the future, the resultant implications will be considerably influenced by our own progress on the indigenous front, investments in the field of nuclear energy from other countries, stakes on good relations in the overall context between India and US, and our economic strength. For different epochs, after the deal becomes operational, the impact of a possible termination of the Agreement can be modelled with reasonable accuracy, and a strategy for minimising this impact can be evolved. This is an important exercise that the government must carry out. Fourth, the type of exposure and experience we derive and the progress we make in the programme by operationalising the deal — which provides unique opportunity to deal with several countries including the US — will equip us to face future sanctions far better than if the deal is not in place.
The other major concern has to do with India’s right to reprocess the spent fuel. This issue is addressed in Article 6 of the Agreed Text that deals with ‘Nuclear Fuel Cycle Activities’. Under Article 6 (iii), it is stated that “the parties grant each other consent to reprocess or otherwise alter in form or content nuclear material transferred pursuant to this Agreement”. This means, in effect, that India has the right to reprocess spent fuel acquired through the implementation of the 123 Agreement. This provision also makes it clear that the consultations on the arrangements and procedures between the two sides should be concluded within a year of any party making a request for reprocessing the spent fuel. There is, therefore, no doubt that India’s concerns with respect to reprocessing rights have been protected under the Agreement.
As a matter of our policy, and emphasised by AEC Chairman Anil Kakodkar, reprocessing is integral to our three-phase cycle. Reprocessing of spent fuel for further use is thus critical and it is important that we protect our right to reprocess. This also brings me to the question of India’s access to reprocessing, enrichment or heavy water technologies. Article 5.2 states that an amendment is needed to allow such transfers. In my view, this could be a part of the evolution of this deal in the future and this is not unusual if one considers similar deals in other areas.
The 123 Agreement also provides for guaranteed and assured fuel supplies for the various reactors that would be set up after the deal comes into effect. Article 5.6 (a-c) deals with how such guarantees would be provided. Apart from direct US involvement in this process, the Agreement specifically provides for an arrangement through the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) “to guard against withdrawal of safeguarded nuclear material from civilian use at any time as well as providing for corrective measures that India may take to ensure uninterrupted operation of its civilian nuclear reactors in the events of disruption of foreign fuel supplies”. Therefore, there are multiple layers of protection to ensure that no disruption in fuel supply takes place.
Having said all this, one should also recognise that a deal of this kind is always bound to be the best compromise — that is acceptable, practicable and, above all, giving due consideration to the interest compulsions of both the parties. Considering that it cannot be therefore perfect, the question one can ask is whether this is the best possible under the circumstances?
Taking into account the various concerns expressed from our side and the way they have been dealt with in the deal, I can say with good confidence that it is so. The operationalisation of this deal from our side will certainly pose several challenges, and calls for careful and clever crafting of strategies both in planning and implementation. The process itself is expected to be highly dynamic.
K. Kasturirangan is a member of the Rajya Sabha and Director of the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. This is an edited extract of the speech he delivered in the Rajya Sabha on December 4 as part of the parliamentary discussion on the India-US nuclear deal.