WASHINGTON DC, July 28, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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Manmohan Singh excites Bush, but Cheney is not interested

India Should be Forced to Open Up its Nuclear Installations

By Sampathkumar Iyangar
Special to the South Asia Tribune

AHMEDABAD, July 28: Civilian nuclear cooperation between US and India is touted to be greatest achievement of the visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his US visit early this month. Spin doctors have gone to town with the claim that the Indian delegation has struck a great deal with the US.

Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran claimed immediately after the release of the Singh-Bush joint statement that it would help India get "the whole range of civilian nuclear energy cooperation open to us, including what many people have been talking about – fuel for the Tarapur Atomic Power Station near Mumbai.” Seen dispassionately, he pointed out, this was clearly a "major breakthrough for India."

Bared of all hullabaloo and hype, the factual position of the outcome of the visit is not as dramatic. President George Bush did promise India full cooperation in developing its civilian nuclear power program in exchange for New Delhi's commitment to adhere to international regimes aimed at curbing arms proliferation, provided the Indians move quickly to fulfill their obligations.

Bush did assure Singh that “he will work to achieve full civil nuclear energy cooperation with India as it realizes its goals of promoting nuclear power and achieving energy security.” The statement noted that the President would “seek from Congress to adjust US laws and policies” and that the United States would “work with friends and allies to adjust international regimes to enable full civil nuclear energy cooperation and trade with India, including but not limited to, expeditious considerations of fuel supplies for safeguarded nuclear reactors at Tarapur.”

The quid pro quo for such cooperation is clearly enunciated in the document: Prime Minister Singh had agreed that India would be ready to assume the “same responsibilities and practices and acquire the same benefits and advantages as other leading countries with advanced nuclear technology, such as the United States.” According to Congressional sources it is Bush's intention to seek Congressional approval to implement the agreement on civil nuclear cooperation this year.

Does that mean that the mandarins of nuclear establishment of India will come out from behind the thick veil of secretiveness and mystery that shrouds its deals to practice a semblance of transparency and accountability?

It is unlikely, unless some fundamental changes take place in the polity of the region and anarchic attitudes of the people at the helm, that President Bush will continue to pursue his initiative with Congress beyond a scheduled review of India’s steps in the direction of “assuming same responsibilities and practices” when he visits South Asia in 2006.

For, it is not going to be easy for the President to convince arms control advocates who dominate the Congress. One of them, Democratic Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts minces no words, “This administration's rogue, shoot-from-the-hip move to launch nuclear cooperation with India puts the interests of industry ahead of our national security."

More significantly, the idea of ending isolationism and opting for international nuclear cooperation is unpalatable also to a powerful coterie of fake scientists, unscrupulous business houses, and other vested interests in India. These elements stand to lose huge recurring incomes in the event of transparency and accountability being forced on the establishment.

The coterie has already started work on sabotaging any possibility of ending isolationist policies. What is more worrying is the fact that this coterie has at its beck and command some of the most talented strategic affairs “pundits” and brilliant ultrapatriotic lobbyists in the Ministry of External Affairs.

Currently, the goings on in the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) are beyond the purview of the country’s judiciary, statutory auditing agencies, and even the Parliament, let alone any international safeguards. Any discussion of its affairs is considered to run counter to “national security.”

Huge funds are gobbled up year after year by this coterie just for enriching its members with no tangible or intangible benefit to a billion impoverished people who pay through their nose to foot the bill. Over the years, these nuclear mullahs have achieved such a sacred position that any criticism of their misdeeds is equated to blasphemy.

According to noted economist Swaminathan SA Aiyar, Indian nuclear scientists who “successfully” achieved the feat of reinventing the wheels of nuclear electricity and weaponry never had any commercial orientations. “They got unlimited money with no commercial control or penalties. The old Indian nuclear establishment is surely unhappy since it remains stuck in the siege mentality that began after Pokhran-I in 1974. It had to somehow keep out the dreaded foreign inspectors who would expose the dirty truth that India’s civilian and defense nuclear programs were one and same. . . If international players are allowed access to the field,.the Indian establishment, long hailed as a hero of self sufficiency, will be exposed as uneconomic, obsolete, and more importantly, grossly unsafe.”

While on the safety aspect of India’s nuclear facilities, the Indian judiciary’s role vis a vis the heist going on in the name of nuclear self reliance has been far from responsible. When the NGO Peoples’ Union for Civic Liberties (PUCL) petitioned the court to direct DAE to furnish details of documented safety deficiencies in nuclear facilities that threatened the environment, their Lordships dismissed the public interest petition unceremoniously. The court ruled that the right of the citizens to life cannot be paramount and is subservient to the interests of the State! A shameful verdict indeed for a country that takes pride in calling itself the biggest democracy of the world!

Bigwigs of the Indian atomic establishment have openly expressed their opposition to the suggestion by American analysts Selig Harrison and Ashley Tellis that the best way for the US to integrate India into the global non-proliferation order as a de facto nuclear weapons state and allow it access to nuclear equipment and fuel is to insist that all existing and future power reactors be safeguarded by the IAEA.

These so-far-unchallenged protectionist scientists insist that safeguards should apply not for their current white elephants but only for any “new facility that is created with outside equipment or help.” Dr AN Prasad, former Director of the Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC), has assumed the leadership of the pack of the desk bound scientists who only invent tall claims. He told Chennai-based newspaper The Hindu that the suggestion of allowing safeguards "goes against the national interest."

Unable to hide any longer the flopping of their futile attempts in reinventing wheels with regard to various types of reactors after squandering monstrous sums, Indian nuke mandarins have recently climbed on to the Fast Breeder bandwagon.

They have started peddling the merits of Fast Breeder Reactors (FBR), which no country in the world has so far succeeded in developing commercially, so that international vigil can be avoided and unlimited budgets can continue. According to Prasad, "Since FBRs will be the mainstay of India's nuclear power program for some time, and since there is a lot to be established for the first time and improved upon to achieve a level of maturity required to make it a success, bringing in safeguards at this stage just because they are civil nuclear facilities will seriously hamper our efforts and cut into our freedom to pursue the development of this program."

Continuing his specious argument, he declared: "Only those who have hands-on experience in operating such facilities and also dealing with intrusive safeguards can fully appreciate this aspect" and warned that the issue "should not be taken lightly." It is of note that FBRs utilize plutonium and the distinction between civil and military applications becomes still more undistinguishable in their case.

Prasad's concerns are shared by several serving and retired DAE officials who feel India needs US support for its nuclear energy sector only to supplement capacity and facilitate supply of uranium. The DAE establishment insists the FBR must be the mainstay of the Indian nuclear power program and that any light water reactors that Russia, France or the US might supply will be an "additionality."

In the context of the Prime Minister's visit to Washington, Prasad said any change in US policy on the nuclear supplies front should be "carefully assessed to see if there are any unacceptable conditions." At no point should India "compromise the basic inherent strength so relentlessly built over the years under heavy odds."

For reasons obvious, isolationist scientists of DAE have traditionally enjoyed the support of Indian Foreign Service (IFS) mandarins and strategic affairs pundits funded by the Ministry of External Affairs. No wonder, even before the ink in the joint statement could dry, Foreign Secretary Saran declared on July 19 that India had not “comprised its sovereignty” to get civilian nuclear technology from the United States.

Saran emphasized: This issue is "very important for everybody to understand because there may be sometimes a perception that somehow we have taken on responsibilities or obligations which are going to be onerous. Not at all." He reiterated his point: "We will not accept any kind of conditionality that others are not willing to accept."

Saran acknowledged that India was not averse to a few conditions. "But we will not be discriminated against and this comes out loud and clear," he said, adding, "We are doing exactly what the United States of America and other countries are doing. Nothing more."

Transparency and accountability are the absolute preconditions to safeguard public interests when handling the inherently dangerous technology. There can be no place for secretiveness, and the mediocrity, nepotism, and corruption that it breeds, in a nuclear establishment.

The Government of India should be forced to scrap the archaic Atomic Energy Act, to open all the atomic facilities for credible international inspection, to come clean on safety deficiencies, purge the organizations of mediocre and fake scientist who had gained entry and ascendance due to arrant nepotism, and ensure proper audit for the vast sums invested as well as for responsible environmental practices before any civilian nuclear cooperation can materialize.

The writer is a technocrat who specializes in the development of components for nuclear and aerospace applications. He has mounted a campaign against irresponsible practices and proliferation crimes.

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