Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The IndoUS nuclear deal, the salient points and benefits ..

The Indo US nuclear deal - salient points

Nuclear energy has always been beyond the grasp of the ordinary Indian. The many ways in which it can be generated ( they call it fission, isotopes of Uranium etc.. ) and the problems associated with fission reaction (the release of energy) going out of control ! Fusion happening on the Sun surface is another form of release of terrific amounts of energy, but mankind has not developed enough to contain the reaction within a laboratory, except under very controlled environments.

Also somebody reminds me that Chernobyl in Northern Russia in 1986 or Three Mile island in Pennsylvania in 1979 was an instance when nuclear plant maintenance went wrong and the radiations coming from these atomic particles spread all over Europe. They say the radiations could damage our health for ever .. The radiations are dangerous and we could contract cancer and genes in the cells of our body could get deformed for ever. ( they call it mutation..) The future generations could come up with no nose, no eyes, or something like that. sounds scary..!

Just yesterday I saw on TV the damage caused by atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagazaki in Japan 62 years back. It was a gruesome reminder of the power of this contraption. That incident had started this great debate and control regime regarding nuclear technology and nuclear materials, who can use and who can misuse it.

Ever since the world realized the power of this device, the countries which already had this technology decided to block the spread of technology to other countries, especially in the aftermath of the second World War. They blocked the entry of other countries to this exclusive group (to which only the technologically advanced countries of that time had access, namely US, Russia, UK, France and lately China) and brought about a nuclear non-proliferation treaty to prevent other countries clandestinely getting this technology from the nuclear powers. ( of course for consideration of cash the A Q Khan expose in Pakistan , or for political reasons as in Pakistan, Iran and North Korea, which are being helped by China, an accepted nuclear power, violating Nuclear non-proliferation treaty, NPT norms). The technologically advanced countries came up with the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) among whom only transfer of nuclear material or technology could take place.

The nuclear powers US, Russia, China, UK and France espoused a nuclear free world. They believed nobody other than them could responsibly possess nuclear technology and material. This self high moral stand circumvented them from any feeling of impropriety from not taking any effort to see their nuclear stocks reduced. They claimed that the nuclear weapons with them could act as a stabilizer of world peace and a deterrent to any attacks. The high moral stand they self assumed was actually holding the other countries to ransom indirectly.

It was at that time, India under H J Babha and Sethna, started work on an indigenous nuclear programme. In 1972 under the leadership of the former PM, Ms Indira Gandhi detonated the first indigenously developed atomic device in Pokhran. The world was shocked ! India was trying to bulldoze its way into the group of nuclear powered countries which was being resisted by the other nuclear powers tooth and nail. Others were not willing to accept our claim to be a full blown nuclear power and were belittling our efforts. It finally required years of neglect and isolation in international scientific circles, for the real growth of Indian prowess and superiority in indigenous R & D, to get US come abegging at Indian doors to engage it constructively and block any more advancement.

Even though at different points of time our leaders espoused the calls of making the world nuclear free, it never was received well. Being a developing economy, the pressure on energy generation and consumption was staring at our face. We tried the non-nuclear route by signing up with the Iranians to pipe natural gas through Pakistan to India. US opposed this vehemently and came with this proposal.

Nuclear power in India by the World Nuclear Association

If it were not for benefits, US would never have inked the documents regarding the nuclear deal which offered separation of Indian nuclear installations into civilian and defence, inspection of civilian nuclear plants and offer of fuel in perpetuity to the plants. In case we detonated another nuclear weapon, India would not be isolated and even though the fuel would be taken back, India would be encouraged and helped to get fuel from other sources in the NSG. We hope our scientists and diplomats too did their homework well and never allowed the US to sit on our shoulders. Let me just list some of the benefits to US and to India.

1. Being able to sell nuclear reactors for civilian projects, a deal that can bring billions of dollars of business back to US and revive it's sagging economy. It has the backing from all major business houses, including GE ( ??) which will mostly be supplying the reactors.

2. The present nuclear technology revolves on the Uranium cycle and it's conversion and reprocessing of the spent fuel. This is about 40-50 years old. Australia possesses about 40 percent of the world Uranium reserves. Another radioactive element is Thorium. India has about 30 percent of Thorium reserves in the world on the Kerala coast. ( It was part of the Gondwana coast with Australia millions of years back).

India has had an indigenous research program in the Thorium cycle ( being isolated by the international community following the 1972 detonation by stopping Uranium supply. But our scientists outsmarted all of them, like we did in the supercomputing -CDAC / telecommunications area - CDOT.) Indian research in nuclear technology by the Thorium cycle, according to informed sources, is at least 20 years ahead of US in this area. It is this innate fear that India will overtake it in the nuclear race or would hand over this technology to rogue countries ( which it has not done so far and has been a responsible nuclear power ) that is the main factor. India can be contained from overtaking US only by engaging it in a positive way, even if it means compromising US interests temporarily.

3. By providing India a clean solution to it's booming energy crisis, India could be persuaded to back out of the Natural gas pipeline deal with Iran. Iran being a rogue state and a threat to Western domination of the world, in the eyes of the US, isolating it is on top priority in US radar. If India does withdraw from the pipeline project, it will be a big blow for Iran and also will see that Iran remains diplomatically and economically isolated in the world.

4. This deal has demonstrated to the world how responsible the largest and civilized democracy in the world has been, how strongly it is committed to play by the rules of the game. In a democracy, the transparency in all public dealings necessitated by a free media and press, eventhough at times, seems a block to development, is a real boon.

Nuclear non-proliferation

The deal, no doubt, is a recognition of Indian indigenous efforts - not clandestinely procuring, of nuclear technology development and of it's supremacy in the Thorium cycle. Its commitment to nuclear non-proliferation in the world, in spite of being a non-signatory to the NPT, tops it all. On the whole, the deal is a positive step and indication that India has an important role to play to ensure world peace in the future.

Indian political leadership needs to understand this responsibility and act accordingly.

George Easaw

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