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Indo-US Nuclear Deal-
Some Unexplored Angles

By Buddhi Kota Subbarao

09 March, 2006

The media build-up in favour of civilian nuclear technology 'transfer' and 'trade' between US and India is so systematic and clever, as to make the public in India see only benefits from it. When all aspects are considered there are more damages in store for India than benefits from it.

India does not fall in the category of countries where nuclear power is a must to meet the growing energy needs. India is blessed with many rivers and has enormous hydro potential which is so far not exploited beyond thirty percent. It is the faulty Indian planning that makes the nuclear power look as a necessary component in meeting energy needs in India.

All the spin in the media is aimed at making the Indo-US nuclear deal look like a golden opportunity to boost energy security of India without affecting the national security needs of the country. If the deal were to come in place really, and if the future nuclear power plants in India are based on the fuel supply from abroad, it is not only the Indian foreign policy that becomes vulnerable to interference, but even the energy security in the country can become precarious. When USA chose to ignore its agreement with India on Tarapur Atomic Power Plant and declined in the seventies to supply nuclear fuel to Tarapur, the Indian nuclear establishment having made tall claims that Tarapur will run on indigenously developed MOX fuel (Mixed Plutonium Oxide and Uranium Oxide), begged France to supply the fuel. France supplied fuel for ten years commencing in eighties. Thereafter India begged China and fuel was obtained for a few years from China. Now it is nuclear fuel from Russia that helps to keep the Tarapur plant going. It is nothing but being naïve to believe that there will be smooth flow of nuclear fuel from abroad to look after India's energy needs. Nuclear technology trade was, is and will be a trade with strings attached and unpredictable.

Dr. Anil Kakodkar Chairman of Indian Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) & Secretary Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) publicly admitted in an interview to a national daily (Indian Express, Mumbai, Wednesday February 8, 2006), that Indian uranium resources can not support the projected nuclear power pursuit in the first stage of 3-stage plan side by side the strategic needs of India. It shows, the DAE has undertaken to build six more PHWRs (Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors) now under construction, 2 x 540 MWe at Tarapur (Maharashtra), 2 x 220 MWe at Rawatbhata (Rajasthan), 2 x 222 MWe at Kaiga (Karnataka) knowing fully well that the country is being pushed into dependency of nuclear fuel from abroad. The step to built 500 MWe Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (FBR) at Kalpakam (Tamil Nadu) should have been timed after India is comfortable with the amount of plutonium needed for its minimum nuclear deterrence. The uranium resources of India will fall short if all the three components namely, the energy, the minimum deterrence and the nuclear submarine needs are considered. Having brought about a crisis with its reckless planning and mismanagement, the DAE worked hard to make Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh to take stands with President Bush and before Indian Parliament, to hide the mismanagement in DAE. The biggest losers are Indians. How does it matter to President Bush or for that matter to any other head of a foreign state, if Indian Prime Minister is ready to go along his country's nuclear establishment which is reckless in its planning and clever in hiding its mismanagement?.

In USA, business interests dictate foreign policy in almost all fields including the civilian nuclear technology. In India, foreign policy assiduously builds the image of Indian nuclear establishment. The latest proof of this fact is the ongoing debate before and after Indo-US joint agreement of July 18, 2005 between President George W Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Washington, and the separation agreement on March 2, 2006 in New Delhi to separate civilian and military nuclear pursuits in India.

The truth is, USA wants to make money by selling the disposable enriched uranium and weapon grade plutonium derived from the dismantling of some of their nuclear weapons, as nuclear fuel for power plants. Such is the case with Russia also. While supplying oil, the seller can at the most dictate its price and nothing more. But while supplying the nuclear fuel, the seller not only dictates its price but also can demand many more commitments from the buyers.

Cost benefit analysis in Indian context does not show justification for building more nuclear power plants. They are expensive to run and build, and the decommissioning is also an expensive business. The present generation has no right to pile up for the future generations, the financial burden arising from decommissioning and the multiple dangers from the unsolved problem of nuclear waste disposal.

It is false to say, nuclear power is clean and cheap. Nuclear reactors frequently release radioactive waste into the environment in the form of dust, mist, fumes, vapors/gases, and liquid waste (water). Krypton-89 with a half-life of 3.2 minutes decays into strontium-89, which has a 52-day half-life. Xenon-137, which has a 3.9-minute half-life, decays into cesium-137, which has a 30-year half-life. Xenon-135, which has a half-life of 9.17 hours decays into cesium-135 with a half-life of 3 million years. These radioactive elements when released into the environment, would ultimately enter into the food chain and cause drastic health problems due to the long lasting radioactivity which poses danger to all life forms on earth. One of the main effects on the environment that the heavy water reactors at Rawatbhata (Rajasthan), Madras (Tamil Nadu), Narora (UP), Kakrapara (Gujarat) and Kaiga (Karnataka) and Research Reactors CIRUS and DHRUVA at Bhabha Atomic Research Center(BARC), Trombay, Mumbai, have is that they release vast amounts of tritium (a radioactive isotope of hydrogen with a 12.3 year half life). Low doses of tritium have caused sterility, microcephaly, stunting.

Indian context

A proper account of India's natural resources and an honest cost-benefit analysis would show that for meeting the growing energy needs and to improve quality of life and health of its people, India should not commit any more of its money to nuclear power, but exploit fully its hydro potential and explore the uses of alternate sources of energy such as solar, wind, tidal wave and geothermal, while taking strict measures and improvements on energy losses . If India places its emphasis on hydro power and alternate sources of energy, the climate change argument to favour nuclear power becomes irrelevant so far as India is concerned. Nuclear power while it gives electricity, is sure to leave behind radiation dangers which would last for thousands of years.

India is blessed with a large number of rivers and as such has enormous hydro potential which is exploited not even thirty percent. Hydropower is clean and cheap, which gives not only electricity, but also irrigation, drinking water, navigation, fishery and such other additional benefits. There are many rural areas in India where even after 58 years of India's independence, women have had to walk 10 kilometers with pots on their heads to fetch drinking water. Health of people improves if there is clean drinking water. Periodically India experiences flood and draught simultaneously with most of the rain water joining the sea. Indian planners failed so far, to appreciate fully the multiple benefits from hydro-power.

On the eve of the 59th Independence Day, President Dr.Abdul J. Kalam in his speech to the nation on 14 th August 2005 focused on the highly technical theme of energy security and independence. Dr.Kalam pointed out that India has 17 per cent of the world's population and only 0.8 per cent of the world's known oil and natural gas resources. But surprisingly Dr.Kalam failed to mention the hydro-potential India has. However Dr. Kalam took pains to urge that there would have to be a ten-fold increase in nuclear power generation in order to achieve a reasonable degree of energy self-sufficiency. In the recent times Kalam's speeches show him to be the spoke's person of the Department of Atomic Energy. In 1998 on the Pokhran-II nuclear tests, as Head of Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO), Dr.Kalam knowing fully well the hydrogen bomb test failed, did not find it necessary to inform the nation correctly. Dr.Kalam is an Honourable Man. It is unfortunate, even while having a scientist as President, there is no help to the nation to know the gap between the promise and performance in the scientific establishments especially in DAE and the wrong priorities of country's planners. DAE keeps the health of Tarapur Atomic Power Plant (TAPP) as secret. But it is known TAPP is one of the worst polluted atomic power plants in the world and its vintage designs have been long ago decommissioned in other parts of the world.

Responsible To Whom?

To break with nearly three decades of U.S. nonproliferation policy and to chart a course for the United States to pursue full-scale civil nuclear cooperation with India, US President Mr. George W. Bush in his Joint Statement with Prime Minister, Dr. Man Mohan Singh in Washington DC on July 18, 2005, put forth his appreciation that India is a "responsible state" with advanced nuclear technology. Whatever may be the meaning of the word 'responsible' gathered by President Bush, the people of India living in the largest democracy with longest written Constitution, are in no position to say that the Government of India and its Department of Atomic Energy(DAE) conduct themselves in a 'responsible' way towards the people of India in the matters of nuclear safety. Now the concern for safety has become more acute when DAE Chairman Dr.Kakodkar has cleverly projected that India specific safeguards alone will come in place. It means Indian nuclear establishment will continue to ignore the international practices in matters of nuclear safety. The then Chairman of Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) Dr.A.Gopalakrishnan in the year 1996 termed the nuclear regulation in India 'a farce'. DAE refuses to disclose to the public the details of the accidents even in the civilian nuclear technology field. Here are a few relevant facts:

· On March 31, 1993 there was a serious accident at Narora Atomic Power Station (NAPS) in Uttar Pradesh. India was close to repeating Chernobyl, in a nuclear disaster that could have changed the very face of the subcontinent. Two enquiry reports were obtained one by the Committee setup by the Atomic Energy Regulatory (AERB) and the other by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL). Neither of them has been made public. In a similar fire accident on March 22, 1975, at the Brown's Ferry Nuclear Plant near Decatur, Alabama, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission published a detailed report on February 1976, marked it NUREG-0050, and made it available to the public at $5 from the National Technical Information Service, Springfield, Virginia.

· To investigate the collapse of the containment dome of Unit-I of the Kaiga Atomic Power Plant under construction in Karnataka in 1994, with about 130 tonnes of concrete falling from a height of nearly 30 meters during construction, two investigating teams were commissioned, one by the AERB and the other by NPCIL. However, the findings of both Committees have been kept secret.

· In 1992, it came to light that an illegal practice was admittedly going on at BARC for over 20 years. Senior BARC scientists were making money by using research reactor Apsara to irradiate natural diamonds, thereby making them dark in colour, as well as radioactive. These diamonds were then released into the market, both domestic and foreign, passing them off as rare black diamonds which are more costly. According to the London-based Diamond Trading Corporation (DTC), these diamonds had a dangerously high level of radioactivity. The DTC warned the government of India through a letter in mid-1992 not to allow its nuclear facilities to be used to irradiate diamonds. It is difficult to know how many people all over the world are wearing jewellery studded with the irradiated black diamonds, and have unknowingly become victims of cancer and leukaemia. This criminal act was not allowed to come under police or CBI investigation. In June 2005, the social organization named "Citizens For A Just Society", founded by noted Gandhian and Freedom Fighter Dr.Usha Mehta, has submitted a Memorandum to Dr. M. Elbaradei, Director General, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) urging IAEA to cause the Government of India to investigate into the illegal irradiation of diamonds at BARC and to take necessary punitive action against concerned scientists of BARC and DAE. Simultaneously the social organization also submitted formal letters to President Dr.A.P.J.Abdul Kalam and Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh to bring offenders of law to justice. But all of it, is of to no avail so far.

· Fraud was committed on Bombay High Court in January 1997 by the DAE. Through a Memorandum, purportedly made under the purported instructions of the then Prime Minister Shri.Deve Gouda, submitted to the High Court in January 1997 as well as with an undertaking given in the open Court, the High Court was made to believe that the high power committee constituted as per the Memorandum with Dr.Raja Ramanna as chairman of the committee and Dr.Abul Kalam, Mr.Anil Kakodkar and others as members, would submit a report in four months on the matter of reorganization of AERB (Atomic Energy Regulatory Board) and on the 90 nuclear safety violations in our nuclear power plants, out of the total 130 nuclear safety violations in all our nuclear establishments compiled by the then chairman of AERB Dr.A.Gopalakrishnan in 1996. Believing thus, the High Court did not admit the public interest petition filed by People's Union For Civil Liberties(PUCL), but the Court was kind enough to keep the doors open if an occasion demands and also recorded that information on the safety violations can not be denied to the public for all times. It is not made public if the said Committee submitted its report in four months (January to April 1997) as promised to the High Court. The information is, the Committee never met, let alone rendering its report in four months. Big names in the field are thrown at the High Court to deflect the imminent judicial examination into the mismanagement and criminal acts of DAE.

Indo-US civilian nuclear collaboration may ultimately lead to promoting US business interests and the inevitable media spin would make it much more difficult for the people of India to guard themselves against nuclear safety violations. There is nothing the President of US can do to help on this point. The people of India have to help themselves against nuclear radiation dangers. Indian specific safeguards should not mean denying the people of India the international practices in matters of nuclear safety.

The writer is former Indian Navy Captain with Ph.D in nuclear technology from IIT Bombay.










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