Separating Nuclear And Military Facilities –– Part 2

An IDC Analysis With Inputs From Ram Narayan


New Delhi, 20 November 2005

The subject of separating India’s nuclear facilities is very crucial from the security and costs point of view, but our MPs and Leaders have little knowledge or interest in such matters, since the Military is not in the loop. Today Natwar, Bihar and other political issues consume all the time and attention, as India’s political map is tenuous. In USA experts like Ashley Tellis, Stephen Cohen, Satu Lamaye and Frankel all PhDs have given testimonies to the Senators dealing with the subject and Tellis had a free run of our nuclear facilities and wrote a book on it which we reviewed. The US has begun hearings. The US Senators have clearance for Intelligence briefings which Indian MPs do not have due to our antiquated Officials Secrets Act.

In our earlier assessment we had explained how, the Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran had publicly stated that there was no road map for the separation of India’s Military and Civilian nuclear facilities. He hinted that the US should first pass its laws to consummate the Manmohan Singh–Bush Nuclear Accord of 18 July, before India made such a road map about the separation plan.

US Senators were upset and some said Indians seem to know more about the deal than US Congress. The likely option was simple in the main –– BARC to be broken in two as civil and military. BARC is the Military part and hub of the weapons i.e. Bombs and fusion and fission experimentation. But the Scientists will resist this, as BARC is also heavily civilian linked and will not like the Military to be involved. Tarapur, the Canada supplied reactor, uses low grade uranium supplied from abroad and has a plutonium reprocessing facility and could be left as Civil and sorted out by experts as it provides electricity. Kalpakam is also where the ATV nuclear submarine reactor is tested and will ultimately house the fast breeder reactor, which will use Thorium to make Uranium for India’s bombs. Hence it should be considered military and the plutonium processing plant should be expanded there. Iyengar village near Mysore would also have to be named as military as India’s uranium enrichment facility is situated there, though we are woefully short of uranium and we get it from Russia for the ATV project and Tarapur. We were hoping to get supplies from Iran but we are at loggerheads now with that country.

Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee, while in Russia, had done yeoman service by publicly speaking about the ATV nuclear submarine facility, by saying Russia had agreed to help India complete the Nuclear Submarine project now progressing with many challenges at Visakhapatam. We hope more details of the “no more secret project” and details of costs, now under PMO, would be released soon.

The third hearing at the House International Relations Committee (HIRC) on the US–India nuclear deal was held on November 16, 2005. While, opinion in the HIRC seems to have sprung in favor of the July 18 nuclear deal, misgivings on the Indian side seem to have increased and these need watching. Two issues are troubling Indian experts:

First, US Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, Robert James, made it clear in his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on November 2, 2005 that: "India's separation of its civil and military nuclear infrastructure must be conducted in a credible and transparent manner, and be defensible from a nonproliferation standpoint. In other words, the separation and the resultant safeguards must contribute to our nonproliferation goals".

He added: "To ensure that the United States and other potential suppliers can confidently supply to India and meet our obligations under the NPT, safeguards must be applied in perpetuity. Further, the separation must ensure –– and the safeguards must confirm –– that cooperation 'does not in any way assist' in the development or production of nuclear weapons. In this context, nuclear materials in the civil sector should not be transferred out of the civil sector."

And finally: "In this context, several countries have argued that it is integral to maintaining the integrity of the global regime that India not be granted de jure or de facto status as a nuclear weapon state under the NPT. For this reason, many have indicated that a "voluntary offer" arrangement of the type in place in the five internationally recognized nuclear weapon states would not be acceptable for India. We indicated at the recent G-8 and NSG meetings that we would not view a voluntary offer arrangement as defensible from a nonproliferation standpoint or consistent with the Joint Statement, and therefore do not believe that it would constitute an acceptable safeguards arrangement. Such a course of action would in all likelihood preclude NSG support. Conversely, should India put forward a credible and defensible plan, we anticipate that many states will become more steadfast in their support."

What should worry us is the "In perpetuity" demand. This is NOT something required of the five de jure Nuclear Weapons States under NPT; and it is NOT mentioned in the July 18 agreement. A lot will depend on how the actual legislation is drafted when Congress considers the issue. But if Congress makes such a clearly discriminatory clause a part of the legislation, will public opinion in India gulp it with equanimity? Will not the deal be as good as dead?

That really leads to the question of how desperate is India's need for imported uranium-based fuel? And how desperate is India's need for foreign technology in the nuclear power field? How far has India's own development of thorium-based fast breeder technology progressed? How near are Indian scientists in making the new technology the basis of India's new nuclear power development program? Indian scientists and technologists should speak out NOW!

Secondly, there is an incessant demand among some circles in the US to impose a cap on further production of fissile material by India, as Professor Madhav Nalapat says, "much before an adequate stockpile gets built up for the development of weapons that are land, sea and air-based." 

India's fissile material cache is not much compared to that of China. Therefore, even if the proposed US legislation does not impose any caps, will it be possible for India to ensure that the separation of military and civil facilities, would not result in putting a cap on fissile material production, and at the same time satisfy the requirement of being "credible and transparent, and be defensible from a nonproliferation standpoint"?

If these issues are not addressed to the satisfaction of India which faces a China that will, in all probability, overtake the United States as a superpower sooner rather than later as the 21st Century progresses, the deal will be a dead letter even before it's delivered.

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