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Indo-US deal: Action shifts to IAEA

India has agreed to accept safeguards in perpetuity but on some condition, writes Nilova Roy Chaudhury.

india Updated: Sep 12, 2006 03:59 IST

Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran has begun focusing on his next assignment, that of bringing the Indo-US civil nuclear cooperation deal to a successful closure, once he hands over charge to Shiv Shankar Menon at the end of this month.

With the US Senate likely to shortly debate the issue before voting on a bill to enable nuclear commerce between the two nations, a parallel set of negotiations will focus on ‘India-specific safeguards’ with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Talks Saran held with the head of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), Anil Kakodkar, on Saturday concentrated on the next round of talks with the IAEA. Kakodkar has already visited Vienna in June for preliminary discussions on the issue.

India had agreed, in the July 18, 2005 joint statement between US President George Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, to sign an Additional Protocol for IAEA safeguards that would be ‘India-specific.’ This, according to a senior South Block official, would differ from safeguards applied to nuclear power states 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.” Neither do nuclear weapon states have to abide by safeguards in perpetuity.

India has agreed, in both the July 18 statement and the statement of March 2, 2006, to accept safeguards in perpetuity, on the condition that nuclear fuel supplies are guaranteed in perpetuity. It is negotiating to ensure creation of a “strategic reserve” of nuclear fuel for the life of each civilian reactor, it possesses. According to officials, safeguards applicable to India will have to be different from those applicable to non-nuclear weapons states.

At the moment, four of India’s atomic power reactors - Tarapur 3 and 4 and Koodankulam 1 and 2 - are under safeguards that are not India-specific, said Arundhati Ghosh, former Ambassador and India’s chief negotiator at the Conference on Disarmament. They are “facility-specific,” of the kind applicable to non-nuclear weapons powers. She added that safeguards applicable to India’s 10 other civilian nuclear power reactors would have to be different from those that apply to both nuclear weapons states and non-nuclear weapons states. The India-specificity also has to cover what happens to the spent nuclear fuel from civilian reactors, which due to contamination by safeguards, cannot be diverted for military/strategic programmes. This calls for a complete re-tooling of the separation facilities that exist at the moment. She also stated, “we have no intention of using foreign fuel for our military programme.”

India, along with Japan, Russia and France, is among the few countries that have mastered the full nuclear fuel cycle in the fast breeder reactors.

First Published: Sep 12, 2006 02:29 IST