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INDIA: Opposition to ‘Nuclearism’ Builds Up

Ranjit Devraj

NEW DELHI, Jun 24 2009 (IPS) - As India follows up on the historic civilian nuclear agreement it signed last year with the United States by drawing up hard commercial deals, opposition to ‘nuclearism’ is building up among activist groups.

The ‘India-U.S. Economic Relations: The Next Decade’ report released this week by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) says that the nuclear deal marks the beginning of a new era that will see bilateral trade jump from the present 42 billion dollars annually to 320 billion dollars by 2018.

"India intends to import 24 reactors in the next 11-15 years, and could create as many as 20,000 new jobs directly and indirectly in the U.S. from nuclear trade," the CII report says.

But although it was the U.S. that pushed India’s case past the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), other countries – notably France and Russia – are eager players in India’s expanding nuclear commerce.

Particularly valuable for India was a special waiver – allowing India to resume nuclear commerce with the rest of the world, by the NSG – which was set up after India’s first nuclear weapons test in 1974 "to ensure that nuclear trade for peaceful purposes does not contribute to the proliferation of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices."

Anti-nuclear activists believe that India – following the completion of the Indo-US deal – is on the threshold of a new era of ‘nuclearisation’ which will have far-reaching effects on the way the country is run.

"With the India-U.S. nuclear deal, and the deals with Russia and France and likely private participation in nuclear energy generation, the situation is going to get out of hand in our country," says S.P. Udayakumar, convenor of the newly launched National Alliance of Anti-nuclear Movements (NAAM).

NAAM, launched at a three-day convention held in Kanyakumari in southern Tamil Nadu, during the first week of June, plans to mobilise ordinary Indians against the ‘nuclearisation’ of the country and protect people against nuclear threats and destruction of the environment from nuclear waste and radiation.

NAAM warns Indian citizens that they are up against a "combination of profiteering companies, secretive state apparatuses and a repressive nuclear department which will be ruthless."

"This nexus of capitalism, statism and nuclearism does not augur well for the country. These forces are gaining an upper hand in our national polity which will sound the death knell for the country’s democracy, openness, and prospects for sustainable development," Udayakumar told IPS.

The three-day convention dealt with nuclear industries and related activities such as sea sand mining and the politics of rewriting the Indian Atomic Energy Act 1962.

There was also considerable focus on liability issues in the nuclear industry, existing radiation illnesses around existing Indian nuclear power plants, and people’s struggles against nuclear installations and mining activities.

India’s nuclear programme has been resisted by local people who have stopped two nuclear power stations – Peringome and Kothamangalam in southern India – from coming up while there is continued resistance to the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant in Tirunelveli district, Tamil Nadu. Popular protest movements have also come from places like Jadugoda, Meghalaya, Haripur and Jaitapur who are struggling against uranium mining in their homelands.

While this is the first time civil society is overtly opposing India’s ambitious nuclear power programme, there has been fierce political opposition to it ever since it was first proposed more than three years ago and it became a major issue over which the April/May general elections were fought.

Achin Vanaik, a prominent participant at the convention, notes that the background to the Indo-U.S. nuclear cooperation deal lies in India endorsing though not joining the US-led Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI).

Vanaik who teaches international politics at the Delhi University says the U.S. sees India, Japan and Australia as the key nodes in the construction of an ‘Asian NATO’.

To amplify the point he indicates the Oct. 23, 2008 ‘Strategic and Global Partnership’ signed between India and Japan. India is only the third country, after the U.S. and Australia, with which Japan has signed such a document.

The NAAM convention concluded with the passing of a resolution which noted that every opportunity was being made to push nuclear energy as a "climate- friendly energy source" although the mining and processing of uranium, the building of nuclear power stations and the handling of radioactive waste are "highly unsafe and expensive, and cause enormous climate-changing pollution."

On the plan to amend the Indian Atomic Energy Act, to facilitate privatisation, the resolution said: "While private companies will make money, Indian taxpayers and ordinary citizens will bear the cost of dealing with all the liabilities, such as nuclear waste, decommissioning, possible accidents, public health issues and other dangerous consequences."

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