US Design on India’s Nuclear Programme
Russia after India’s nuclear tests in 1974 was the only country for India as a source of materials for the nuclear energy including weapons and nuclear power plants. The only exceptions was the USA, which has continued to supply fuels for the Tarapur nuclear plant for some years and China, who has supplied fuels for the Tarapur plant after the refusal of the US to do so. Russia so far has supplied India heavy water plants, reprocessing plants, Fast Breeder Reactors (FBR) and two fresh nuclear power plants with the excuse that the contracts for these were signed between India and the Soviet Union, which Russia has to oblige.
Recently USA had suggested that if India would purchase nuclear power plants not from Russia but from the US, these restrictions can be relaxed in case India can separate out the civilians power plants from those which can be utilized by the Indian defense establishments. Both of these steps require massive financial investments. The purchase of nuclear power plants from USA would mean paying possibly ten times more than the cost of corresponding Russian nuclear power plants. There would not be any technology transfer either.
The nuclear offer of the US was a process of surrender for India regarding its nuclear energy and weapons programme. If India buys nuclear power plants from the USA, these would be under full-scale inspection of the IAEA, thus India cannot divert anything from these plants for the defense services. India will not get the reprocessing plant, without which it cannot manufacture nuclear weapons. Thus, gradually India nuclear weapons programme will disappear. India’s efforts to develop missiles and rockets would be affected adversely too.
Thus, India would be much less powerful than Pakistan in every aspect, as Pakistan has no such constraints. It would continue to receive both advanced nuclear weapons and missiles from China in future as it had received in the past with the full knowledge of the USA since the days of President Reagan.
India’s Position on Nuclear Plants
The realistic option for India is the Kalpakkam FBR, built by Russia to provide India enriched uranium for the nuclear weapons. However, that route also can be closed by the USA who is increasing pressure on Russia through the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) of 44 nations. Unless India will abandon its nuclear weapons, it cannot be a member of the NSG either. To override the objections of the NSG, Russia has offered India a floating nuclear reactor, which can be placed near India’s shore. However, India is so far reluctant to accept it, as it would certainly annoy the USA.
The Reality Regarding Nuclear Drama
The Vienna Treaty with NSG has clearly pointed out the following that would cripple India’s nuclear weapons programme. The Treaty says:
“Participating Governments may transfer trigger list items and/or related technology to India for peaceful purposes and for use in IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) safeguarded civil nuclear facilities.”
“Participating Governments may transfer nuclear-related dual-use equipment, materials, software, and related technology to India for peaceful purposes and for use in civil nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards.”
“At each Plenary, Participating Governments shall notify each other of approved transfers to India. Participating Governments are also invited to exchange information, including about their own bilateral agreements with India.”
Thus, only for the facilities under the control of IAEA India can import fuel, materials and technology. It cannot import these even from Russia, as Russia is a member of NSG and has to consult NSG to export any nuclear materials or technology to India particularly anything related to India’s Nuclear Weapons Programme. This was made clear in the Senate bill presented when the discussion on the 123 treaty with USA is in progress. That would practically mean FBR and Reprocessing plants, being built by Russia, would be under the IAEA controls, otherwise Russia cannot supply any materials or technology for these from now on. Thus, India’s nuclear weapons programme or the reactors in the military sector would be lame ducks for the foreseeable future unless and until Russia would come out of NSG.
123 Deal puts further restrictions. The Bush administration’s January 2008 letter to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, made public recently, brings out the following.
USA has given no legally binding fuel-supply assurance of any kind and there is no US consent to stockpiling of fuel reserves. India will not be allowed to build such stocks to avoid if US re-impose sanctions. US civil nuclear cooperation is explicitly prohibiting further nuclear tests by India even if warranted by Indian national security concerns. All cooperation will cease immediately if India conducts a test.
The US has retained the right to suspend or terminate supplies at its own discretion.
The 123 Agreement has granted India no right to take corrective measures in case of any fuel-supply disruption. Rather, India’s obligations are legally irrevocable and perpetual.
The Bush administration’s letter states that the 123 Agreement fully conforms to the Hyde Act provisions. “US government will not assist India in the design, construction or operation of sensitive nuclear technologies.” Under the 123 Agreement, India has agreed to forego reprocessing until it has, in future, won a separate agreement.
123 Agreement Article 5(2) that, “Sensitive nuclear technology, heavy water production technology, sensitive nuclear facilities, heavy water production facilities and major critical components of such facilities may be transferred under this Agreement pursuant to an amendment to this Agreement.” The Bush administration’s letter to Congress states that the US government had no plan to seek to amend the deal to allow any sensitive transfers.
Already the US senate has imposed a new clause in the Hyde Act that in future national security organizations of the USA, which means CIA and FBI, would now collaborate with India regarding nuclear non-proliferation. This in effect would imply that US organizations would make sure India will not be able to gain any advantage to use its nuclear facilities to create nuclear weapons.
Section 104(d) (2) of the Hyde Act is related to the supply of nuclear fuel to the plants in India, which would be used to produce nuclear weapons, by using end-use monitoring of spent fuel by the IAEA and the US organizations. There are provisions in the legislation, which would put a cap on fissile material production. These would effectively end India’s nuclear weapons programme.
Alternative Was Available
India was not a “Pariah” in the world of nuclear energy since 1974, but India has become nearly self sufficient due to the help from the USSR and Russia. Russia, after India’s nuclear tests in 1974, was practically the only country for India as a source of materials for the nuclear energy industry including both nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants. Russia along with the former Soviet Union so far has supplied India heavy water plants, reprocessing plants, FBR and two fresh nuclear power plants with the excuse that the contracts for these were signed between India and the Soviet Union in 1985, which Russia needs to oblige.
USSR has started for India the construction of the first FBTR (Fast Breeder Test Reactor) of capacity of 40 MWt (million watts thermal) in Kalpakkam in 1985. In 2008 Russia has started the construction of a Prototype FBR of capacity 500 MWE (million watts electrical) in Kalpakkam. Associated Reprocessing plants in Kalpakkam were first built by USSR in 1985 and then in 1998 by Russia.
Without the nuclear deal with NSG and USA India could be able to maintain its nuclear plants by using reprocessed plutonium as a fuel in the FBRs and using its own uranium in the conventional plants. India could continue to get both onshore and offshore nuclear plants from Russia, as it would honour the Indo-Soviet Treaty of 1985. This is exactly what former President Putin and former Prime Minister Fradkov have suggested during their visits to India, but India was not interested. In that case India would be at liberty to test and develop nuclear weapons any time it likes without any restrictions using plutonium from its FBRs and enriched Uranium from other nuclear plants. Indo-US Nuclear Deal and the Vienna Treaty with NSG on the other hand have increased both real and perceived restrictions on India that would in reality destroy any credible nuclear deterrent for India against possible attacks from either China or Pakistan.
Section 103 of the Hyde Act suggests that the US would oppose development of a capability to produce nuclear weapons by any non-nuclear weapon state within or outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty regime. The section requires the US to work with the 45-nation NSG to further restrict transfers of equipment and technologies related to uranium enrichment, reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel and production of heavy water to all countries, including India. The legislation also requires the US government to seek to prevent transfer of these equipment and technologies from other members of NSG or from any other source. Section 104(d) (2) stipulates that transfers to India cannot begin without the NSG guidelines. Also, there are provisions in the legislation, which would put a cap on fissile material production. The US Senate Bill can apply Hyde Act worldwide against India even when India would buy anything nuclear from any other countries within NSG.