The India–US Nuclear Deal –– The Final Word

By Jayant Karmarkar and Ranjit B Rai


New Delhi, 28 February 2005

President Bush has for mutual benefits, supported India’s entry into the exclusive five nation nuclear club, and the entry required decision-makers from both countries to balance India’s foreseeable civilian nuclear power generation benefits, and in return India was being asked to forsake its long-term unproven nuclear power strategies that hold the promise of self-sufficiency. The IAEA monitored segregation of nuclear facilities is to be restricted to civilian use. Most hurdles seem to have been overcome except India’s pursuit of its Fast Breeder based reactor technology, which has implications in the military domain, especially as PM Manmohan Singh has committed that India will support and join FMCT and level off India’s fissile material holdings. Reams have been written about this impasse but the final word is to be out soon. Whereas a number of benefits can surely be anticipated to accrue to India, USA and other countries, from this historic deal a careful analysis of the competing strategies has been steered by USA’s Nicolas Burns and India’s Shyam Saran with their teams, in an attempt to achieve a winning outcome before President Bush arrives tomorrow. Can it be realized? We feel the answer is yes and a compromise on the fast breeder issue, giving India breathing time till 2010 may solve the impasse.

The US has strong infrastructure expertise spanning seven decades, in segregating facilities and personnel and detecting segregation violations in R&D, engineering and production facilities, whilst engaged in a diverse range of aerospace, biological and nuclear applications. India has neither the experience, nor the culture of secrecy, to maintain such segregated, albeit cost duplicative facilities, thereby rendering this segregation unaffordable and unacceptable from an Indian perspective. India’s scientists are chary of giving up pursuit of their home grown fast breeder reactor technology and Larsen and Tubro are constructing the facilities near Chennai and the military supports their stance. Most sources claim India has only 800 kgs of fissile weapon grade plutonium for 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 heads in a first strike, leads the military to ask for 200 triad based bombs. Hence in due course more fissile Pu 235 (plutonium) will be needed, and it is anticipated the FBR will provide that, and possibly U 233 (uranium) another unique byproduct for bombs. India will also need enriched uranium fuel for its nuclear submarine fleet 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. Segregation of this facility at Kalpakam at this juncture will put an economic squeeze on India in its legitimate and responsible indigenous R&D effort to eventually become energy self-sufficient. That is India’s stance and sounds logical.

On the US side it is not in the interests of the USA to “setup” India and fail the pact, because then India may be motivated to take surreptitious “short cuts” to maintain its politically driven military security needs, thereby motivating India to risk violating IAEA commitments. India’s cost per KW in the free enterprise driven commercial sector will become higher, thereby making nuclear less competitive and less attractive, and India will be less able to afford the wares offered by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), safety related or not. Bush’s team realises that and Condelezza Rice has scripted in her policy that  USA would help India become a world power and letting it down at this juncture would not be wise.

The other advantages when the pact is finally sealed with NSG cooperation will come through the segregation of facilities in India. The subsequent IAEA and NSG negotiations will have provided unfriendly foreign powers a much deeper insight into the organization and technical depth and breadth of the Indian Nuclear establishment, both civilian and military, and its strategically exploitable vulnerabilities and locations, at negligible acquisition costs, which foreign
powers like France have already welcomed. This will assist in India’s deterrence policy towards China which is not spoken of during the negotiations but has underpinnings.

Finally it is helpful to recall that the “conventional” civilian power reactors typically utilise 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 available 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 deal needs to be supported and the prognosis of success is high.

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