Nuclear Deal Struck

People’s Democracy

Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 11


Deal Struck



much supposedly nail-biting tension “going down to the wire”, the nuclear
deal between India and the US was finally clinched during the visit of president
George W Bush to India. During the build-up to the visit, numerous comments and
leaks from both sides spoke of irreconcilable positions and differences hanging
in the air, all suggesting that the deal was improbable. However, the arrival of
US point man Nicholas Burns in Delhi a week before, and hectic consultations
thereafter, indicated that the deal was in fact being sewn up and was only
awaiting the summit between prime minister Manmohan Singh and president Bush
where a “dramatic breakthrough” could be announced testifying to the skill
and determination of the principals.


the US and India were keen on finalising the agreement on Civil Nuclear Energy
Co-operation, a clever designation for a deal that kept running up against a
wall because of its military aspects. This US presidential visit to India
provided a perhaps one-time opportunity to cement the deal: the Bush presidency
will enter its lame-duck phase shortly and the next US administration may not be
as willing to go against earlier non-proliferation shibboleths.


the nuclear deal is part of a broader strategic relationship is self-evident,
made manifest in the many wide-ranging agreements signed during the Bush visit
following on from the defence and strategic partnership agreements entered into
last June-July 2005 during visits by the Indian defence minister and prime
minister to the US. Yet the contours of the deal have their own significance.
For India, the gains could be substantial: end of isolation in nuclear science
and technology, end to a sanctions regime affecting many high-tech industries.
The fear was that in its eagerness to get out of this no mans land India would
give away too much.


vigorous campaign waged by the Left, sections of the scientific community and
the nuclear establishment, other experts and media commentators, and supported
by public opinion concerned at possible threats to Indian sovereignty and
self-reliance, has prevented this from happening. This has not received the
attention it deserves for it demonstrates that US imperialist designs can be


prime minister’s statement in parliament on March 7, 2006 and the detailed
documents tabled in the House reveal that this is a deal India can live with.
However, many hurdles are yet to be crossed, not least passage of appropriate
legislation by the US Congress, and the pressures sure to come on India to bend
this way and that.





the heart of the deal is the plan to effect a separation between civilian and
military facilities, and placing the former under International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA) safeguards. Whereas the BJP and some right-wing commentators have
been railing against the very idea on grounds that it will be complex, expensive
and curtail India’s weapons programme, the detailed separation plan made
public by the prime minister meets the requirements of a reasonable and
transparent framework while retaining the fundamentals of India’s independent
nuclear energy capability, its research programmes and its “credible nuclear


to the separation plan are some principles crucial for Indian sovereignty,
self-reliance and energy security. The plan offers to separate and place under
safeguards specific facilities selected by India and in a
phased manner
, two conditions crucial to India not only to guarantee
sovereign decision-making but also because the military and civilian aspects of
the Indian nuclear programme are so intertwined that a surgical separation is
simply impossible.


much of the public debate, the plan is described as separating “civilian”
from “military” facilities, whereas more accurately it is a separation of
facilities which will have purely civilian applications being placed under
safeguards from those that will not. 
In the latter, the plan keeps out of safeguards not only facilities with
a military significance but also those integral to India’s self-reliance in
the nuclear fuel cycle and R&D towards its quest for long-term nuclear
energy security through Breeder reactors and finally the thorium cycle.


doing so, the separation plan has clearly moved away from the capitulationist
positions of sections of the foreign policy establishment and strategic
community who poured scorn on the scientific community and the Left for standing
in the way of a great opportunity to strike a grand bargain with the US by
pushing to keep Breeders out of safeguards and insisting on measures that would
ensure Indian self-reliance and sovereign decision-making. Foreign secretary
Shyam Saran even publicly declared at a seminar that “it makes no sense to
keep some civilian facilities… out of safeguards.”




plan offers to place under safeguards 14 out of the present 22 reactors,
amounting to about two-thirds of current nuclear power generation as against
two-fifths at present. (Incidentally, while a piqued BJP has been shrill in its
criticism of the deal, insiders know that the NDA government too had offered
14/22 to the US in 2002!) All future commercial power reactors will also be
placed under international safeguards which, as Indian interlocutors have been
pointing out, will substantially and continuously raise this percentage which is
already being tom-tommed by the US interlocutors as a great achievement. Out of
these 14, six (two each at Tarapur, Rawatbhatta and Koodankulam built with US,
Canadian and Russian assistance) are already under safeguards. Another
Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWR) will be designated by India and placed
under safeguards by 2014. Three heavy water production plants are being placed
under safeguards and five kept out to meet the requirement of reactors in the
respective sectors.


strategically significant complexes at Trombay and Kalpakkam, from both the
military and research standpoints, have been kept out of safeguards. Even purely
research or other facilities in these complexes not having any military
dimensions will also be kept out of safeguards to protect these installations
from intrusive inspections. Some uranium enrichment and other fuel-cycle related
facilities in these complexes and at other locations such as Rattehalli and the
Nuclear Fuel Complex in Hyderabad, will also be kept out of safeguards. The tiny
Apsara reactor located inside the Trombay complex will be relocated. This broad
strategy of isolating certain complexes will likely guide selection of the
reactors to be placed under safeguards.


Research Institutions connected in one way or another with the nuclear programme
have also been put in the civilian list so as to pave the way for increased
international scientific collaboration.




much heated arguments with the US, the two Breeder reactors have been kept out
of safeguards. This is essential not so much because of any military importance
they may have but mainly to protect India’s advanced research capabilities in
this technology from intrusive international inspections that may not only erode
India’s technological edge by exposing its indigenously developed know-how but
also impede its research programme.


allay apprehensions that weapons-grade plutonium coming out of nuclear power
reactors and used and further produced by Breeders will keep accumulating, the
plan offers that once the present R&D phase is over, all future
commercial-scale Breeder reactors will be placed under safeguards. At the same
time, the reactors kept out of safeguards are adequate to ensure supply of
plutonium for charging of the Breeder reactors and for use in the weapons
programme, as also tritium for the latter.  

major concession made by India has been to accept that the separation of the
civilian facilities will be “in perpetuity”, another bone of contention
between the two sides. Recognised Nuclear Weapons States (NWS) are permitted to
switch facilities between civilian and military sectors but the plan chooses to
overlook the prestige angle and instead focus on energy security. But on the
plus side, the plan ties the “in perpetuity” provision to uninterrupted
supplies of nuclear fuel, builds-in US and international guarantees and efforts
to ensure this and even provides for India to stockpile nuclear fuel under
safeguards against such an eventuality. The spent-fuel storage pools in Tarapur
and Rawatbhatta are already under safeguards and more such safeguarded storage
is likely to be created subsequently.


concession by India is the decision to close down by 2010 the Cirus research
reactor closely associated with India’s strategic programme even though it has
been refurbished as late as 2003. Cirus has been a sore point with the US and
especially with Canada which had supplied materials for setting it up on
condition it would not be used for military purposes whereas India claims it did
so because Canada terminated supplies. While India still has the Dhruva reactor,
an up-scaled version of Cirus, it may require additional capacity for strategic
purposes. The plan allows India to create such additional un-safeguarded
strategic facilities as it deems necessary.




IAEA and major countries such as Russia, France and Britain have welcomed this
agreement, and it is quite likely that the Nuclear Supplies Group, or at least
key countries, will go along as hinted at by the visiting Australian prime
minister this week. Yet there are many hurdles to cross, not the least being
approval by the US Congress in the face of rapidly declining popularity of the
Bush presidency which is beginning to encounter challenges on several issues for
the first time inside the legislature. But these uncertainties apart, there are
some issues within the terms of the deal itself and around it that need to be
flagged for caution. The Left, other anti-imperialist forces and those standing
for India’s self-reliance and sovereignty need to be vigilant on this count
and keep up the pressure on the government.


crucial aspect of the deal is reciprocity of measures to be taken by India and
by the US, IAEA, NSG etc. The UPA government must ensure that it strictly
follows this principle and does not take any steps until the US fulfils its part
of the bargain. 


safeguards need to be negotiated carefully with the IAEA. The need for special
provisions for India arises both from the fact that India is not a signatory to
the NPT and because of the complexities of the separation plan. This will be
quite tricky and will provide ample room for mischief and coercive
conditionalities through the back door especially by the US, seeking to curb
India’s independent nuclear technology capability.


separation plan leaves many details to be worked out later, some of it to allow
more time for considered decision-making. But this wiggle room can cut both
ways, and also leaves scope for the US to make additional demands. The UPA
government must resist all attempts to extract further concessions from India
and US pressure on the specious grounds of the need to satisfy the US Congress.


US is also clearly out to substantially alter the international
non-proliferation architecture. Finding the NPT inadequate to maintain its
strategic and technological nuclear monopoly, the US now wants to engineer a
system that would deny all non-NWS countries rights over the nuclear fuel cycle.
Recent efforts to coerce Iran into accepting off-shore re-processing and supply
of nuclear fuel are part of this game plan. As late as a week before his
departure for India, Bush announced the launch of a new “Global Nuclear Energy
Partnership” through which advanced countries such as the US, Britain and
France would supply fuel to “developing” countries with nuclear power plants
and surprisingly included India in this list clearly going against the Indo-US
Agreement of July 2005. While the deal and the separation plan announced by
prime minister Manmohan Singh appears to contradict this, there has been no
official withdrawal by the US of president Bush’s remarks and one should
assume the worst that the US will continue to mount pressure on India to accept
a junior role in a US-led international nuclear system.


deal is being touted by prime minister Manmohan Singh as a crucial aspect of
India’s long-term energy security. Nuclear energy is only one part of
India’s and the world’s energy scenario and one should not be carried away
by it. Talk of import of nuclear reactors and technologies is being glibly
bandied about but it is essential that the techno-economics and strategic
significance of such transactions and options are carefully evaluated.




is also a need to go beyond the specifics of the Indo-US deal and protecting
Indian sovereignty and self-reliance within it.


is a real danger of India now settling comfortably into a de
NWS status and an international non-proliferation architecture that
permits it. This will only mean acquiescence with an iniquitous nuclear
apartheid system in which India is granted “honorary white” status. India
has stayed out of the NPT because it is discriminatory and this character of the
NPT will not change merely because India is let in from the cold. Nor should it
let all NWSs, de facto or de
off the hook from the NPT commitment to total universal nuclear


and peace-loving forces should relentlessly keep up the pressure on the
government on both these issues. Their demand still remains that India should
take all steps necessary, both global and regional, to facilitate freezing and
then rolling back of nuclear weaponisation. It will be in the fitness of things
if, once the deal is formalised after approval by the US Congress and the NSG,
the UPA government takes steps to convene an international conference in
implementation of the New Delhi Declaration and reiterates its commitment to the
long-cherished goal of universal nuclear disarmament.