India 'does not need' nuke deal

US President George W. Bush's visit to India from today is causing much excitement in the official and media circles.

Gulf News

US President George W. Bush's visit to India from today is causing much excitement in the official and media circles.

There is intense speculation about the India-US civilian nuclear cooperation deal being clinched during the visit.

Also, there is much uncertainty because of the acute differences about the separation of the civil and military nuclear facilities.

For the first time, many scientists associated with nuclear research in the country have openly opposed the deal, and the American pressure to place the fast breeder reactor (FBR) to be made open to international inspections.

It is not yet clear whether nuclear deal will be clinched, but the dissenting voices are clearer than ever before. In an exclusive interview with Gulf News, former chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board A. Gopalakrishnan, explained the loopholes in the deal.

Excerpts from the interview:

Gulf News: Is this the first time that there is a clear division between the nuclear establishment and the political establishment over the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal?
Gopalakrishnan: Yes, it is. The July 16, 2005 agreement signed by Manmohan Singh and George W. Bush is not the problem. The problems arose when the US began to demand more than what is in the agreement.

According to the July agreement, it was left to India to separate the civilian and nuclear facilities, and to place the civilian facilities under international safeguards over a phased period. Due to pressure from the US Congressmen, officials of the Bush Administration asked for a list of the facilities to be separated, and they began to make the demand to include what has been left out.

Does India need this civilian nuclear cooperation pact with US?
India does not need it. The Indian argument that it is necessary to ensure our energy security is so much hogwash. If energy security is the prime concern, then we should be paying more attention to the coal reserves and to the hydro-electric potential.

It is the Americans who have been pressurising India to sign the deal. The Americans have not built new reactors for more than 30 years now. India and China offer an attractive market for the US companies which sell civilian nuclear technology.

Why is Indian political establishment so enamoured of this deal?
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is an economist, and he looks at issues from the point of view of trade. And then the Americans are offering the political carrot of supporting India's bid to be a permanent member of the UN Security Council if it were to sign the nuclear deal.

There is an argument from the lobby favouring the agreement that India desperately needs to sign this deal because the failure to do so would force us to close the Trombay reactors due to shortage of fuel. What is the real picture?
That is a bogey. The two reactors in Trombay produce about 300 megwatts of electricity. And they have completed nearly 27 years of their 42 years life. It does not matter if we have to close them down because we have other reactors generating power.

How do you rate the status and standard of nuclear research in India? Is it world class?
Ever since the sanctions imposed by the US after the 1974 Pokhran test, Indian nuclear scientists had to find their own way. The reason was that we had to work as pioneers because technology and know-how was completely blocked. But Indian scientists have overcome all the hurdles.

Today we have got some of the best nuclear engineering courses in the world, which are as good as those in Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Caltech. I can say this with confidence because I had been in the US myself and seen the situation.

As a matter of fact, the 1974 sanctions were a blessing for Indian nuclear and space establishment. We have attained self-reliance. And I can tell you that even if US imposes sanctions against Iran, the Iranians will achieve their goal.

Why is then the success of the Indian nuclear and space scientists a secret?
The scientists are shy and they are not used to beating their own drum.

Do you think that the scientists from the nuclear establishment who moved into the government have betrayed the cause?
I would say that once the senior nuclear scientists moved into the advisory role in the government, they began to compromise. They were told by the bureaucrats about the compulsions of trade and of international relations.

How will the India-US talks on the nuclear deal play out?
I think the Americans will recognise the Indian compulsions, and they will stick to the July agreement.