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Thursday, February 23, 2017
Analysis by Ranjit Devraj
- Confident in the large market it offers to the world’s nuclear suppliers, India has decided to shrug off new restrictions by a 46-nation cartel on the transfer of uranium enrichment and reprocessing technologies that potentially have military applications.
India, which has refused to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) on the grounds that it is discriminatory, pulled off a diplomatic coup in 2008 by securing a special waiver from the 46-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
Except for the five officially recognised atomic weapons states, all countries are required to place their nuclear sites under the safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog.
Following a plenary in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, the NSG announced on Jun. 24 that it would “strengthen its guidelines on the transfer of sensitive enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) technologies,” diluting the clean waiver granted to India and exempting it from full-scope international safeguards.
Nuclear energy experts in India told IPS that the NSG’s move may be prompted by commercial concerns and an attempt to squeeze India into buying nuclear equipment in a market rapidly narrowing down in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.
“Even before Fukushima, India and China were the only countries with major plans to expand nuclear power generation. And now, with China switching to renewable energy, India is the only major buyer left,” says Praful Bidwai, a member of the International Network of Engineers and Scientists Against Proliferation.
According to Rajiv Nayan, international partner at the Fissile Materials Working Group and senior research associate at the state-funded Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) in New Delhi, the NSG’s strictures could jeopardise the Areva deal.
“It is for the NSG to carry India along in the interest of better international nuclear governance and management,” Nayan told IPS.
Given the present climate for nuclear energy, countries like France, Russia and the United States, which have already signed major nuclear commerce deals with India, are unlikely to back off, Nayan said.
India has ambitious plans to raise its nuclear power generation from the current 4.7 gigawatts to over 20 Gw by 2020. Besides Areva, Russia’s Rosatom and General Electric from the U.S. are among corporations negotiating for deals worth more than 100 billion dollars.
In an apparent warning to the NSG, India’s foreign secretary Nirupama Rao told television interviewers on Sunday that there are “leverages” that could be applies to countries unwilling to enter into nuclear commerce with India.
Rao said the U.S., Russia and France had, since the NSG announced its new policy, made known that they would stand by their commitments to India.
French ambassador to India Jerome Bonnafont confirmed in a Jul. 1 press statement that “this NSG decision in no way undermines the parameters of our bilateral cooperation,” and that France remained “committed to the full implementation of our cooperation agreement on the development of peaceful uses of nuclear energy signed on Sep. 30, 2008.
“Coming after the decision of exemption from the full-scope safeguards clause, adopted in favour of India in September 2008, it (NSG decision) does not undermine the principles of this exemption,” the statement said.
After three decades of isolation, India resumed nuclear commerce with the rest of the world after concluding a civilian nuclear deal with the U.S. in 2008 that allowed it to continue with an indigenously developed nuclear weapons programme.
Nayan said the Indo-U.S. civilian nuclear cooperation deal and the NSG waiver came in spite of strong domestic pressure both in India and the U.S. from peace groups and those supporting nuclear disarmament.
Within the NSG, countries such as Austria, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland had unsuccessfully argued that India be excluded from trade in ENR technologies.
Nayan said, however, that the NSG never actually gave India any explicit assurance on transfer of ENR technologies.
Also, he said, Indian parliament had passed a stiff nuclear liability bill in August 2010 that discouraged international nuclear equipment suppliers – though several bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements have been signed.
As a self-declared nuclear weapons state that is not signatory to the NPT, it would have been difficult, in any case, for India to source nuclear technology or equipment from any country that is a signatory to the treaty.
India provides no guarantees that it will not replicate facilities and technologies for its strategic programme and, in fact, the Indo-U.S. nuclear cooperation agreement allows facilities that are declared to be military in nature to avoid international scrutiny and safeguards.