The Government is ready with a template for a facility-specific safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and could begin technical negotiations with it as early as the end of next week.
There has been one technical-level meeting with IAEA officials on the issue, besides informal discussions between top officials of the Department of Atomic Energy and the IAEA Board of Governors.
Mohammed El-Baradei, Director-General of the IAEA, is on record saying he does not anticipate any problems with reaching such an agreement with India soon.
The safeguards agreement will be different from the one India has for six of its nuclear power reactors.
It will be India-specific as it will take into account India’s status as a ‘state possessing advanced nuclear technology’.
In the agreement, India will seek perpetual fuel supply assurances before it agrees to place its civilian reactors under perpetual safeguards.
The safeguards relate to supervision of nuclear fuel and other material brought in to operate a civilian power reactor, and its management and handling.
While India already has six of its nuclear power reactors under IAEA safeguards, this agreement will be India-specific in that it will take into account India’s status as a “state possessing advanced nuclear technology”. This, according to a senior official, would differ from full scope safeguards applied to non-nuclear weapons states or safeguards applicable to nuclear weapons powers, because India has not been formally recognised as a nuclear weapons state but as a country possessing “advanced nuclear technology”. Hence, a facility once classified by India as civilian cannot be “declassified”. Also, nuclear weapons states do not have to abide by safeguards in perpetuity.
According to official sources, India will seek perpetual fuel supply assurances in the agreement before it agrees to place its civilian nuclear reactors under perpetual safeguards.
The safeguards relate to the supervision of nuclear fuel and other material brought in to operate a civilian power reactor, and its management and handling. India has offered to build a dedicated facility to reprocess the spent fuel from the reactors it has designated as civilian in its separation plan. Details of that proposal are also likely to be included in technical discussions with the IAEA.
Officials are working on a variation of the kind of safeguards India already has in six of its nuclear power reactors to ensure its strategic programme is kept completely out of the loop, official sources told the Hindustan Times.
Having got the political nod, officials from the Department of Atomic Energy and the External Affairs Ministry’s disarmament division will be involved in the technical discussions with the IAEA secretariat.
Only when the safeguards agreement is ready would the Nuclear Suppliers Group be able to change its guidelines and allow an India-specific waiver to allow the country to access and resume civilian nuclear trade.