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Thursday, Sep 19, 2019

Giving our N-programme a much-needed boost

India needs nuclear energy as part of a mix to meet rising electricity requirements as its growth rate comes close to 10 per cent per annum.

india Updated: Aug 13, 2007 00:25 IST
Amit Baruah
Amit Baruah
Hindustan Times

Why does India need nuclear energy?

India needs nuclear energy as part of a mix to meet rising electricity requirements as its growth rate comes close to 10 per cent per annum. The energy deficit is acting as a speed-breaker to India’s growth. At present, just 3 per cent of India’s power requirement comes from nuclear sources. The government plans to produce 20,000 MWe of nuclear power by 2020, up from the current installed capacity of 3,700 MWe.

Does India need external help?

Yes. In order to generate more power, India needs to buy nuclear reactors and nuclear fuel from abroad. Its own programme has been a success, but if the growth of nuclear power has to be accelerated, then help from abroad is essential.

What is the Nuclear Suppliers Group?

The NSG is an informal grouping of 45 nations which came into existence after India conducted its first nuclear test in Pokhran in 1974. It seeks to limit the transfer of nuclear technology and fuel in the name of promoting non-proliferation.

Why does the nuclear deal have to be done through the US?

As the pre-eminent power on the global stage, the US can facilitate the purchase of nuclear reactors and technology from abroad by India. In December 2006, it passed a law (the Hyde Act) to allow for nuclear commerce with India. New Delhi, which is not a member of the NSG, is banking on the US to get the group to make an exception for India so that it can boost its civil nuclear sector.

What are the basic points of the Indo-US draft agreement?

The agreement permits nuclear trade, transfer of nuclear material, equipment, components and related technologies as well as cooperation in nuclear fuel cycle activities between India and the US. It allows India to re-use (reprocess) spent nuclear fuel, create a reserve of nuclear fuel and provides guarantees in case there is a glitch in the implementation of the agreement. Furthermore, it recognizes that India has a military nuclear programme, something the US has never done in the past. The accord is for an initial period of 40 years and can be renewed for further periods of 10 years at a time.

What does separation of India’s civil and military programmes imply?

India’s nuclear programme had never made a distinction between its civil and military programmes. Under the accord, however, this distinction has to be made. Fourteen of the 22 (nuclear) thermal power reactors will be placed under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards by 2014. As of now, only 19 per cent of India’s installed thermal power capacity is under IAEA safeguards — this figure will go up to 65 per cent by 2014.

Does the deal stop us from carrying out any more nuclear tests?

No. There is nothing in the draft agreement that prohibits India, in principle, from testing a nuclear device again.

What if India went ahead and tested a nuclear device?

India can test again, but it will come at a cost. Under American domestic law (the Hyde Act read with the Atomic Energy Act), all cooperation must come to an end in case India tests a nuclear device in the future. However, the US has promised to take into account the circumstances in which the nuclear weapon is tested. Also, there has to be a one-year notice period for ending cooperationmunder the agreement.

Can the US stop India’s military programme?

No. It is India’s decision which of its facilities will be used for military or civilian purposes.

What is the Hyde Act?

It is a domestic American law — named after Congressman Henry J. Hyde — that allows for civil nuclear cooperation with India. It was passed in December 2006.

Is the US discriminating against India by making it sign a more complicated deal than that ones it has with, say, China or Japan?

No. In fact, the US has granted India up front rights to reprocess spent nuclear fuel, something it has not done for China.

Why is the civil nuclear agreement also called the 123 accord?

Because civil nuclear cooperation between the US and a foreign state is enabled through Section 123 of the American Atomic Energy Act of 1954.

Does the agreement need Parliament’s approval?

The Cabinet has to approve the 123 agreement, not Parliament.

What further steps are needed to implement the agreement?

Three more steps are needed — New Delhi has to negotiate an India-specific safeguards agreement with the IAEA, get clearance from the NSG and the US Congress has to give its final approval to the 123 agreement.

What are India-specific safeguards?

India-specific safeguards mean that such provisions will apply only to India. We will agree to safeguards on specified reactors only if there is an assurance for lifetime supply of nuclear fuel. India will have the right to take “corrective measures” relating to safeguards in case the supply of nuclear fuel is interrupted.

Can the US end civil nuclear cooperation with India?

Yes, it can. But it will come at the cost of bilateral relations.

Who will inspect Indian nuclear facilities, those committed to safeguards? Will US inspectors have access to these facilities?

Only IAEA inspectors will be able to visit the safeguarded nuclear facilities. American inspectors will not have such access.

First Published: Aug 13, 2007 00:21 IST