The nuclear signal from Modi
After stoutly opposing the nuclear deal with US six years ago, the BJP-led NDA Government at the centre has made first foray in nuclear diplomacy by ratifying the India specific safeguard agreement called the additional protocol of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), signaling to the nuclear world that India is not only willing to take forward the nuclear agenda pursued by the previous UPA Government but is ready to reaffirm its commitment to them. The decision silently conveyed to the IAEA in the third week of June 2014 has been made within the first month of the Narendra Modi Government, who interestingly is scheduled to make his first international journey to Brazil in mid-July and later to Japan in late August and to White House in late September where the nuclear agenda will be one of the hot menu on the table.
India’s full integration with the international nuclear community has been a subject of debate for long, because of non-adherence with the non-proliferation regimes. However, the latest move by the new Modi Government in India would simply be not enough to open a huge door for Indian nuclear establishment to engage with the nuclear powers of the world. The nuclear powers, eager to invest in India’s mega nuclear power projects worth hundred of billions of dollars in coming decades, would like more clarity on India’s nuclear liability law and to dispel their concerns they would expect India to also ratify the Convention of Supplementary Compensation for nuclear damage of the IAEA, which India has already signed in October 2010. Though India had signed a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with the US in 2008, which enabled India to enter into nuclear cooperation agreements with many other countries possessing nuclear technology and resources, India still could not enter the hallowed nuclear clubs of the world like the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the Australia Group, Wassenar arrangement, etc. However the green signal given by the one month old Indian Government to ratify the Additional Protocol of the India Specific Safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency has the potentials of facilitating Indian entry into the various nuclear clubs. However, in the background of India’s ambitions to generate 60,000 MW nuclear power by 2030 and the commitment expressed by the Modi Government in Parliament to pursue the same, this would not be enough. To enable the nuclear power companies of the world to set up nuclear power plants in India, Modi Government will have to clarify its stand on the controversial nuclear liability law. However, the move to ratify the additional protocol has been described as a step in right direction, which the international community must take note of.
The ex-special envoy of the Prime Minister for Disarmament and Non-proliferation Rakesh Sood has, while welcoming the move, said that more initiatives need to be taken, particularly if progress on nuclear issue is to be registered during the Modi’s September visit to Washington. However, this move could not have come at a more opportune time as an energy starved India is looking for exponen- tial rise in energy production to cope with the huge energy demands in future required for an emerging economy. This decision will not only raise the confidence of the International community on India but will also boost the energy security of the country in the long run.
This proposal was under consideration with the Indian Government since last five years, which envisaged the ratification of the additional protocol of the Atomic Energy Agency. This move was made at a time when the Nuclear Suppliers Groups had called a very crucial meeting on June 23. Indian officials expect the NSG members to take note of the Indian decision to ratify the additional protocol of the IAEA. This decision should remove all doubts among the nuclear powers who oppose any cooperation with India in nuclear energy. The adherence to additional protocol will require India to submit the nuclear facilities to the IAEA for nuclear inspection. However, there will be no obligation on India to open its non-safeguarded nuclear facilities for international inspection, which are meant for military purposes. Indian officials contend that the additional protocol will not have any bearing on India’s nuclear weapon programme and at the same time allow more transparency in India’s other nuclear facilities which use imported nuclear fuels and equipments. Though the IAEA has model document for such purposes and many non-nuclear weapon state had to adhere to this, India has skillfully negotiated the additional protocol which will not be as intrusive as the IAEA arrangement with other countries. However, the additional protocol will facilitate the easier and regular entry and exit of the IAEA staff and experts to inspect whether the imported nuclear material is being used for authorised purposes. India had already signed a safeguard agreement with the IAEA, which covers over 20 nuclear establishments for open ended inspection by the Agency experts. Since US and Japanese support to India’s nuclear energy program is considered most critical, Modi needs to convince them as he engages with the India friendly Abe and a skeptical Obama in the coming days. Since Japan has been asking India to adhere to the NPT and the US has expressed apprehensions on Indian nuclear liability law, the ratification of the additional protocol of the IAEA will instill confidence on them as far as Indian nuclear civil nuclear energy programme is concerned.
Since India has a very ambitious nuclear energy programme in view of its fast rising energy need, the government has taken a very pragmatic step to remove some of the misconceptions among the nuclear powers regarding India’s nuclear ambitions and nuclear energy program. This should encourage the developed nuclear powers to work closely with India in meeting its energy demands, for which India needs to remove all ambiguities. Since India has also signed the Convention of Supplementary compensation on nuclear damage and has not yet ratified, the nuclear giants would now expect India to come clean on this issue also. Only this would repose the confidence of the nuclear companies like Westinghouse, Areva and Hitachi on India to take risks for investing in proposed nuclear power plants in India.