A powerful lobby group in Johannesburg has urged the South African government to oppose India's bid to buy nuclear fuel and technology when the issue comes up at the next meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group early September.
"I am writing to you to urge you to oppose an exemption for India from the rules of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)," Dominique Gilbert of the Pelindaba Working Group (PWG), a member of the national Coalition Against Nuclear Energy, wrote in a letter shared with media. South Africa is one of the 45 members.
The group takes its name from South Africa's first nuclear energy research centre at Pelindaba, north of here.
"As you know, the NSG operates by consensus, so by blocking such an exemption South Africa can prevent grave damage being done to the international nuclear non-proliferation regime," Gilbert said.
PWG said India was seeking an exemption so that it could conclude a nuclear agreement with the US. However, an exemption from NSG rules would enable trade in nuclear materials, equipment and technology not only between India and the US, but also with other nuclear supplier states, including France and Russia.
"The US-India nuclear agreement effectively grants India the privileges of nuclear weapons states (NWS), despite the fact that India developed nuclear weapons outside the Nunclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) regime. The agreement doesn't even require India to accept the same responsibilities as other states, i.e. full-scope IAEA safeguards for non-NWS and a commitment from NWS to negotiate in good faith for the elimination of nuclear weapons," the letter continued.
PWG accused India of not offering to take any positive steps towards nuclear disarmament.
"It continues to produce highly enriched uranium and plutonium for nuclear weapons and retains the option to test nuclear weapons again in the future. Under these circumstances, an exemption for India offers no benefits. It will only serve to set back efforts for nuclear disarmament and undermine the international non-proliferation regime."
PWG made the plea to the South African government ahead of a meeting of the NSG scheduled early next month after an inconclusive meeting in Vienna last week at which several countries expressed concern over the US-India pact.
There was no comment from the foreign affairs ministry on the letter, but analysts here claim that it is unlikely to have any impact on a South African government decision.
South Africa, one of India's strongest allies because of a shared history of colonial domination and protest politics by Mahatma Gandhi, is believed to have assured India of its unconditional support on the issue.
India, facing a critical shortage of uranium for its nuclear energy programme, has been fighting for several decades now against its exclusion from international nuclear trade resulting from its unwillingness to sign the NPT.