After having promised India an equitable deal, the country is being pressured to settle for a killer agreement. With the Bush administration moving away from its initial position on the core issue of fuel supply and re-processing even before the 1-2-3 agreement is inked, clearly hoping for a dilution of the several killer conditions set by the Hyde Act would be foolish.
Among such conditions is the inspections regime mandated under the legislation. These would comprise of multiple agencies, the effect of which would be to uncover every key technology that has been indigenously developed. Thanks to the proposed nuclear deal, India may find its technology taken away by the US and sold back to it! With India taking the lead on global thorium technology, the inspections prescribed by the Hyde legislation and later by the IAEA would ensure that the country'sintellectual property would be taken away and even patented in other countries. This would happen as a result of the many ?safeguards? enumerated by the US Congress, which would permit unrestricted espionage into the Indian nuclear and missile programme, both of which are crucial to the country'ssecurity.
Interestingly, India'sown Atomic Energy Act does not permit the patenting of indigenous R&D in nuclear-related technologies, while the NPT?which applies to non-nuclear weapons states (NNWS)?cannot be invoked by India in order to deny inspections on downstream facilities?an option that was exercised by Brazil to prevent ongoing theft of intellectual property. Under the terms that passed muster under the incomparable Ahluwalia and Saran, India would face all the fetters of the NPT without any of the (meagre) benefits. The same would apply to the CTBT and other international agreements of a restrictive nature, all of which India would need to comply with in order to get an annual good conduct certificate from the US Congress. It needs to be borne in mind that even the country'sspace programme has come under Pentagon criticism, with analysts there openly writing that any future Indian missile ?would have the US as the target?. The remedy, according to them, is to choke to death the Indian rocket and space programme. This at the very time when Montek Singh Ahluwalia and other Bush boosters in India have been promising ISRO of US ?help? in the space programme. Such ?assistance? now seems likely to be ?the way the hangman'snoose supports the hanged.?
Interestingly, the US has itself consistently demanded?and secured?terms that do not compromise future potentialities. An example is the nuclear partnership with Canada initiated over five decades ago. The US atomic bomb effort was substantially facilitated by Canadian shipments of irradiated fuel to Oak Ridge without any significant conditions on re-processing. Should Manmohan Singh bind future Indian governments into continuing with restrictions that would place the population of India at a much greater risk of a nuclear attack, he would be laying down conditions that would make necessary a trial for treason in his future.
The reality is that, given political will, India has all the elements in place to fast-track the indigenous thorium programme. Such a move would ensure that for generations to come the country does not fall prey to externally orchestrated sanctions and to going in for less efficient uranium-based light water reactor (LWR) technologies, would makes India dependent on the cartel that controls the international uranium trade. To be fair to the US side, they have always been candid about their objectives. On the first anniversary of the July 18, 2005 statement, US analyst Ashley Tellis went on record stating that in agreeing to the deal, it was a given that India had determined that its present plutonium inventory ?suffices?. The fact is that current stocks are grossly inadequate for even a minimal deterrent capability, not to mention feeding the energy programme. Subsequently, Tellis also made clear that from the start, the Indian negotiators had been informed that the permitting of re-processing of spent fuel was a non-starter for the US.
Tellis'sstatements have only reinforced what India'sscientists have known since 2005, that the nuclear deal is being seen by the Bush administration not only as a way of getting multi-billion dollar contracts for US corporations such as Bechtel but is expressly designed to throttle the thorium programme as intrinsic to the three-phase cycle, which is the creation of U-233, which can also be used in weapons.
The US side has worked hard to persuade India to jettison this indigenously developed technology in favour of costly and imported alternatives that would place the country perpetually at the mercy of foreign suppliers for its energy and security needs, even though Tellis admits that using thorium makes ?good economic sense?.
With the prices of uranium having gone up by about 300 per cent over the last three years, it makes no sense for India to give up a much more economically viable and proliferation-resistant technology that uses thorium, in favour of imported uranium. Without reprocessing rights, India would be forced to purchase enriched uranium for all its reactors at greatly enhanced cost. At present, the country'sindigenously built reactors use natural uranium that retails at a fraction of the cost of enriched versions of the fuel, a point that Manmohan Singh has sought to evade.
This writer was the first to point out that if India agreed to outdated American LWR imports and thereby tied the country'snuclear industry in perpetuity to the technological relics on offer, India would be trapped into trading in the Homi Bhabha-created three-stage thorium programme for high-cost uranium imports. The Hyde Act has taken away any vestige of hope that India would secure even a guarantee of future uranium supplies, not to mention reprocessing of spent fuel. Worse, even though thorium based alternatives exist, India would be accepting technology that presumes unlimited uranium supply with an inefficient burn-up rate of only about 0.5 per cent rather than the more efficient rate of about 10 per cent achieved with the in situ utilization of fissile material produced in the reactor itself (as conceived in the thorium-based fast breeder programme). This basic fact of reactor technology?that the greater the utilization of fuel through a high burn-up rate, the lower the costs?was overlooked during the disastrous initial phase (2005, 2006) of negotiations with the US.
That the US is itself seeking to master thorium technology is not news. AECL, among other vendors, has been researching the thorium fuel cycle application to enhanced CANDU-6 and ACR-1000 reactors. This model includes a fuel composite comprised of 5 per cent reactor grade plutonium plus thorium to achieve greater utilization at lower costs. In the case of the privately owned General Atomics Company based in California, the US government funds their R&D to the tune of over $ 400 million per year for promoting work on advanced fuels. The fact that General Atomics owns a uranium mine in Australia is an added convenience. All this while US negotiators seek to convince the Indian side that thorium is impracticable as a feedstock.
Although India has six times more thorium reserves than uranium deposits, a succession of pusillanimous governments in New Delhi has prevented the needed exploitation of either resource. There are valid technical and financial reasons for going the thorium route over uranium. In fact, both the Kakrapar-1 and -2 units were loaded with 500 kg of thorium fuel in order to improve their operation when they first achieved criticality. India has proudly claimed Kakrapar-1 as the first reactor in the world to use thorium over depleted uranium to achieve power flattening across the reactor core. Many other viable alternatives to uranium dependence also exist, although as yet, for reasons that are not transparent, such efforts have yet to be fast-tracked.
AEC chief Anil Kakodkar'splan for the design of the advanced heavy water reactor (AHWR) needs to be given an impetus . In this system, 75 per cent of the energy would come from raw thorium alone which is abundantly available in India. Further, several theoretical studies done on home shores have shown that by using breeder reactors, the country can get considerable energy output from raw thorium, without the need to reprocess. To abandon such an effort, or not to speed it up, would be criminal folly. India would begin enjoying large-scale economic benefits, were the country to become future vendors of a combination of one of our largest natural resources and commercially viable new technology. It is India'sfuture self-reliance through the commercialization of thorium-based alternatives that the Hyde Act seeks to block by attempting to stop the country from reprocessing. After seeing that Manmohan Singh lacks the political support needed to jettison Indian national interest entirely, the US side has begun offering the bait of ?maybe permitting future re-processing?. That scrawny bird in a non-existent Bush sees reason to surrender technologies and capabilities built up over half a century of facing the most restrictive technology denial regime that the US could devise.
Ironically, even while vigorous R&D to develop such technology is going on in South Africa, China, Japan and other countries, India?as a leader in the field?would have to stop this work, as it would be impossible to carry out under the regime of sanctions being prepared by the US and the IAEA for India. And this at a time when, within the US itself, new methods for using thorium in power reactors have been put into practice by General Atomics, which already has a operational 650 MW machine. These companies would benefit from the costless acquisition of Indian technologies secured through the intrusive inspections regime mandated by the Hyde Act
Only after a section of the Indian strategic community as well as the opposition parties began to denounce the gathering possibility of surrender did Manmohan Singh reluctantly begin to associate the scientific establishment with the details of the negotiations conducted as spadework for the deal. When the scientists saw what the Government of India was in the process of giving away, they were appalled. Some of their concerns were made public, and the resulting change in the public mood led to a hardening of the Indian position, helped by Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon replacing Shyam Saran as pointperson for the negotiations. But it was too late for the US side to change direction. Today, although he realises that such a sellout is political suicide for both Manmohan Singh and Sonia Maino Gandhi, an enfeebled George W.Bush is in no condition to go back to the US legislature for a relaxation in the numerous sovereignity-limiting conditions on India that are imposed by this alien law. Of course, given his proclivity towards external interests (as first evidenced by his gift to Russia of $12 billion as a result of the rupee-rouble deal), Manmohan Singh may still be hoping to create enough confusion through a clever choice of words and an apparent deferral of certain conditions to forget the national interest, break his oath of office, and sign the one-sided agreement on offer.
There are, it must be admitted, many voices within the Indian establishment who seek such surrender, and who claim that there is ?no option? to the deal as presently offered. But is this correct? The reality is that only the hesitation of successive Indian governments to take needed steps in defence of the national interest has reduced the country'sleverage to an extent that the US, the EU and China are still confident that they can prevent India from emerging as a technological equal with the capability of challenging the former'sdominance in space and nuclear technology.
Next is to investigate the background of the mysterious NGOs that have succeeded in blocking proper utilisation of India'sknown uranium reserves, and placing the evidence of intentional sabotage before the courts to clear away legal hurdles to increasing domestic uranium production, now that Australia had made it clear that an India which is not a technological slave of other countries is unacceptable to Canberra. Those who tied the hands of India'snuclear scientists for decades did so promising that the US and its allies would finally recognise this unilateral act of good faith by integrating India into the international nuclear architecture as a state with advanced nuclear technology?the very phrase, let it be repeated, used in the July 18,2005 statement of George W.Bush and Manmohan Singh, words that quickly got belied by actual actions
When Nicholas Burns, stated that the US was surprised by the ?hypersensitivity? of Indians to the US welshing on Tarapur, he needs to be reminded that much after Tarapur, Washington is doing it again.
Were the Government of India serious about meeting India'senergy needs, it would speed up the thorium-based programme and utilise more effectively the country'sstock of uranium as well as fuel feedstock, so as to enhance the country'sbase inventory of plutonium. Once the fast breeder reactors are up and running, the plutonium used in them can be recovered. To be able to have uninterrupted supplies at the rate of around three tons of plutonium for a 500 MW reactor, there needs to be an expansion of the available fuel reprocessing facilities. And it is here that the spent fuel now lying toxically and expensively at Tarapur comes into the matrix. Even though the agreement governing its use (which anyway became invalid once the US unilaterally withdrew) lapsed, considerations of cost, need and safety mandated an immediate re-processing of the spent fuel. Unfortunately, a succession of timid Prime Ministers in India decided against re-processing the fuel, although India has the technology and the validity period of the bi-lateral agreement governing the spent fuel lapsed after the first 25 years. If energy security is indeed a goal, the time has come to re-process Tarapur spent fuel in campaign mode, as well as discharged fuel from all the country'soperational heavy water reactors.
Next, Russia needs to be approached for the required supply of discharged material from old weapons, which India can purchase. This material could subsequently be reprocessed under safeguards, and put to use in the thorium programme
The concept of acquiring nuclear material from international sources is not new. After all, it is well known that the present five NPT nuclear weapons states collect nuclear material under the schemes devised from time to time. With their ever-increasing (in terms of destructive ability) arsenal and continuous expansion of weapons systems within their own shores, it is anybody'sguess what percentage of imported feedstock goes directly to aid such offensive weapons programmes. In contrast, India, should some of the country'snuclear negotiators have their way, could end up gladly contributing to the weapons stockpiles of the five at this country'sexpense,through the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, that relegates India to the same bracket as Chad or Laos.
In order to throw off the shackles imposed not only from outside but by the cowardice of the country'sleadership all these decades, the country needs to simultaneously increase efforts to mine indigenous uranium to meet short-term needs. Given political backing, full thorium utilization could become a reality within a decade The Atomic Energy Act needs to be amended so as to ensure public-private partnership in this critical sector
Again, it is important to remember that the higher the burn-up, the lower the costs, which is the best reason for favouring thorium-based technology. Coming back to the General Atomics Co., the US company has already demonstrated the viability of a thorium-based reactor by running the fuel to more than 500,000 MWDays per ton. India's plutonium carbide fuel has already seen more than 150,000 MWDays per ton in the FBTR. There is therefore no technical reason for the government to abandon the thorium route as would in effect take place once the conditions imposed by the Hyde Act kick in. Hopefully, nationalists within and outside the UPA will be able to prevent Manmohan Singh from going down in the history books as the saboteur of India'snuclear and missile programme.