The Nuclear Deal And Arguments In India

An IDC Analysis


New Delhi, 11 July 2006

Reams have been written on the India–US Nuclear deal and we reproduce a piece from the June issue of Asian Military Review on the criticality of the deal. There are those in India who support it like Raja Menon (who spent three months at Sandia Labs) and Ashley Tellis (who helped craft the deal) and those who oppose it like nuclear specialists Bharat Karnad, Homi Sethna and PK Iyengar. The question is not whether it will go thorough –– because it will, but whether once again we Indians will be lulled into believing that nuclear power will come tomorrow and we get taken in by the business interests of USA.

This is what Vishnu Bhagwat seems to be warning us about in his latest book. Both India and USA think they have got the better of the other, but maybe our security interests are jeopardized and our nuclear capabilities and ability to test are capped. Some say we have been castrated ––with news of huge intelligence leaks from NSC by Paul and Cdr Mukesh Saini, who TOI reports was a RAW operative in USA. It is certain that USA knows all about our nuclear capability and thinking. In India the Official Secrets Act 1923 is outdated but our operational abilities and thinking is our secret which seems out now. If true this is serious and we are not sure how good this deal will be for India at this juncture and inputs will be welcome. But how we went about the deal is written in the article below


By Ranjit B Rai


In the last decade there has been a marked shift in India’s foreign policy to shed the burden of its long professed non alignment policy of over four decades, that consumed the energies of India’s diplomats and leaders who churned out reams on the subject, and delivered convincing speeches world wide, extolling the virtues of non alignment, well aware that India was entrapped in the Soviet camp. It kept India’s Armed Forces isolated from the world’s Armed Forces, till recently. India’s tilt towards USSR of yore, was part ideology driven to please the masses and India’s vote bank, but more it was for military security, driven by the fact that USA had tilted to Pakistan. It culminated in India signing a 20 year treaty of Peace, Collaboration and Friendship with Moscow on 9th August 1971 –– Clause 9 of which read as follows:

“In the event of an attack or a threat thereof the two(India and USSR) would immediately enter into mutual consultations in order to remove such threat and to take appropriate effective measures to ensure the peace and security of their countries”.

Many say it was a master stroke by Mrs Indira Gandhi goaded by General, later Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, the then Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee and Army Chief, who was tasked to prepare for the inevitable winter war with Pakistan in 1971, to make sure the millions of refugees camping in India returned to East Pakistan, and repressions against the East Bengalis by the Pakistani military were halted. Manekshaw wanted insurance against possible Chinese and American intervention. The 14 day December war did come, and the treaty ensured that the Chinese did not intervene and USA’s Task Force consisting of USS Enterprise, Decateur and Parsons entered and left the Bay of Bengal peacefully and without interfering. A new nation, Bangladesh was born and for the next 20 years till the break up of the Soviet Union, USSR provided India arms, ships, submarines and aircraft in large quantities and on easy credit terms, engaged in barter trade, and supplied oil in emergencies and regularly through Iraq. Russia also helped India start a nuclear submarine programme in 1983 called ATV, and supplied a Charlie class nuclear submarine on lease in 1987 for 4 years. In return India invariably voted with USSR in the UN, and even turned a blind eye to Russia’s incursion into Afghanistan and Viet Nam. That is now history.

With globalisation as an imperative, and the demise of USSR, India began to make overtures to USA in the 90s for its dire needs of technology, energy and economy which were reciprocated with investments, till India exploded its second set of nuclear bombs in May 1998 called Shakti (power) and relations thawed. Sanctions were imposed on India and Pakistan. Concurrent Pakistan history is replete with America’s tilt towards that nation and generous aid including large military supplies to Pakistan. But when India exploded a nuclear device in Pokhran in May 1974 under the euphemism called peaceful nuclear device –– PNE, it did not fool many nations. Pakistan was smarting over its 1971 defeat. Even though 95,000 soldiers and officers taken as POWs in East Pakistan by India’s Army were amicably repatriated to West Pakistan, Pakistan decided to assemble nuclear uranium bombs as insurance against India’s conventional strength at any cost, and undertook to even to eat grass if they had to, in the words of the late PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto father of Benazir Bhutto. Bhutto was later sentenced to death by Gen Zia Ul Haq who overthrew him. Pakistan achieved bomb capability by the early 90s and announced it through an Indian media personality. USA’s intelligence knew about Pakistan’s surreptitious acquisition of bomb designs from China and uranium centrifuges from the West, and should have applied the Pressler amendment but successive Presidents of USA turned blind eyes.

The Changes Post 9/11

Post 9/11 sanctions were lifted and USA and India moved ahead in graduated steps of cooperation covered in a document termed NSSP standing for Next Steps in Strategic Partnership. On the legs of closer military to military relations, and USA’s industry needing to do business with India, relations moved close, but also faltered because Colin Powell as the Secretary of State displayed a marked tilt towards Pakistan and was untrusting of India. When he vacated office, successor Secretary Condelezza Rice who had been working with India as NSA, worked with Donald Rumsfeld, and ensured that Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee signed a wide ranging Defence Framework agreement in the fall of 2004, in Washington DC. This was a prelude to bigger things, as USA’s military industrial complex eyed India as a potential market. On 18th July 2005, India’s Prime Minster Dr Manmohan Singh visited Washington DC and agreed with President Bush to work towards consummating an Indo–US nuclear deal which enjoined India to separate its civil and military nuclear facilities, work towards the FMCT and in return US Congress would be canvassed to amend USA’s atomic energy laws to allow India to import nuclear technology and badly needed uranium. Bush also agreed to canvass the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to waive its rules to favour India.

Indian scientists began work on the separation programme which was hotly debated in India’s media and Parliament. India’s nuclear scientists moved ahead to assure IAEA about the safeguards that India would implement. The final separation agreement was achieved in New Delhi on 2nd March during President Bush’s historic visit, when Condelezza Rice uttered the words, “Mr President we have a deal”, after some hard overnight negotiations. The joint statement read, ‘‘The two leaders today expressed satisfaction with the great progress the United States and India have made in advancing our strategic partnership to meet the global challenges of the 21st century’’. This underscored efforts to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and India joined the big five to ensure no more proliferation, and its vote to tame Iran’s uranium aspirations, need to be viewed in that light. India’s PM stated to the nation that the deal partially addressed the needs of India’s energy security, without overly affecting its sovereign control over India’s strategic nuclear programme.

The Separation Plan and Military Implications

The US legislators have long wished to see India cap its fissile material programme and that posture continues. USA has strong infrastructure and expertise spanning seven decades, in segregating nuclear facilities and detecting segregation violations. India does not, and has mixed uranium and plutonium based power and research reactors, and its current weapons programme is nascent and plutonium based. India’s proposed plan which is being debated in the US Congress is to put 14 out of its total 22, and all future nuclear reactors, under IAEA safe guards. India has two small uranium fuelled research reactors, the Canadian Cirrus and indigenous Dhurva, at Bhabha Atomic Research Center BARC, where India’s bomb cores are stored. These two reactors can produce fissile plutonium. India has agreed to shut Cirrus by 2010, and shift Dhurva out. An American specialist recently was given access to BARC. India’s other power reactors have to burn at slow rate and produce less power, if they are employed to make fissile plutonium with is then reprocessed for its bombs. The stumbling block in negotiations has been India’s home grown Fast Breeder Reactor (FBR) technology which Indian scientists wish to keep out of safeguards. They believe the FBR’s long term fuel cycle has the capability to operate with plutonium, and then uranium mix, and finally thorium which India has in plenty. The FBR will then produce more fuel than it consumes and Uranium U 233 which will be bomb grade. There is ongoing research to see if nuclear submarines can run with thorium rectors. A prototype 40 MW FBR has been running at Kalapakam near Chennai since 23rd October 2004 and on that confidence India’s Larsen and Tubro Engineers are constructing the facilities for the large FBR there. The military is supportive of the scientists’ stances.

Most sources suggest India has less than 800 kgs of fissile weapon grade plutonium for some 80 nuclear warheads. Mathematical calculus in dealing with this complicated subject of second strike by survivable war heads that will be needed after paralysis of some bombs by an enemy’s first strike, leads the military to ask for 200 triad based bombs. Hence in due course more fissile Pu 235 will be needed, and it is anticipated the FBR will provide that, and possibly U 233 another unique byproduct for bombs. India will also need enriched uranium fuel for its nuclear submarine fleet. India is woefully short of energy and when the FBR employs Thorium as fuel in India’s FBR, it ultimately promises to satisfy India’s power needs.

India under Dr Manmohan Singh and his team has taken that gamble. A large Navy contingent involved in the ATV nuclear submarine construction programme at New Delhi (Aakanshka, meaning Hope), Vishakapatnam (SBC for construction), Kalpakam (mini reactor and training) and Hyderabad (with BHEL for the propulsion) will need to use enriched uranium as fuel and the enrichment plant at Ratehale near Mysore forms a critical military facility. Media had recently reported that in 2000 Russia supplied two 180 MW (possibly old ice breaker) nuclear reactors without fuel to India with clearcut obligation not to use on ships, some claim for training, and supports India’s nuclear submarine programmes. Russia has since, also supplied 60 metric tons of uranium to India soon after President’s Bush’s visit in March and India is not easily budging from its proposed separation plan. USA is working levers to negotiate further and see what other side benefits it can get from the deal like getting India to come on board and join the Proliferation Security Initiative PSI.


Finally it is essential to recall that the “conventional” civilian power reactors typically utilize a “once through” fuel cycle using Pu (plutonium) or enriched Uranium (Eu). After about five years of operation, the resulting “spent” fuel rods contain high-level waste (HLW), typically with a half-life of about 10,000 years. This lethal waste in spent fuel rods is cooled, typically in outdoor water ponds, next to the reactor, for about eighteen months before they can be encased for transportation, albeit hazardous, to a waste repository. Currently encasement materials cannot be guaranteed to be leak-proof beyond 250 years and may also require active cooling in the repository. Incidentally, these spent fuel rods are sought by terrorists, to fabricate dirty devices.

Once the India–USA nuclear deal is inked India will be able to look into its waste challenges more openly with USA’s assistance as USA is even helping Russia out. The prognosis of success of the final outcome are high, but as the deal is also seen as USA pitting India against China, the jury is still not out as to how China will react. President Bush has for mutual benefits, supported India’s entry into the exclusive five nation nuclear club, and still awaits US Congress clearance to balance India’s foreseeable civilian nuclear power generation benefits, with India being asked to forsake its long-term unproven nuclear power strategies that hold the promise of self-sufficiency. Today both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers and the chances of ‘all out war’ between them has receded. USA recognizes the need to shift goal posts and side up with India for the strategic and economic potential such action would afford. Yet it needs Pakistan’s support in its fight on terror, but the tilt towards India has begun.

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