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Post 2009 Election:ADDRESS CONCERNS OVER 123 PACT, by Dr MM Kapur,19 May 2009 Print E-mail

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New Delhi, 19 May 2009   

Post 2009 Election


By Dr MM Kapur

Come October the 123 agreement will have been one year in operation with one patron in altered historic onlooker role and the elections behind us. This leaves the 123 without the hype and hoopla, a state that renders the treaty contents and objectives easier to review. The two prime objectives (explicit and implicit) were: One, a civilian nuclear cooperation, to ease the scarcity of nuclear fuel for our existing and planned energy generation projects. Two, to keep our strategic nuclear programme intact and outside the scrutiny of the IAEA

However, the moot point is: The treaty’s aftermath risk load for the aam aadmi. It has been claimed that the nuclear deal would benefit the common man. This was certainly just election rhetoric and even the lay public has seen through this stratagem. The common man may get a share of the energy generated after the needs of the industry and industrialists have been met. But this may occur sometime in the distant future after all others are replete, and only then will the aam aadmi receive attention in the form of rural electrification

Moreover, whenever the deal leads to construction of nuclear plants, these are likely to be located close to rural and urban populations. These units will no doubt be secured, but the risk of pilferage of radioactive material with exposure of unaware population, acts of sabotage and of terrorism will remain, and will harm life and living space of the citizens.

The last two risks have links to perceptions in the minds of sections of our population leading them to conclude that these high value assets are surrogate US targets. This is the result of the hype that the Indo-US deal has received in the midst of a hostile environment without any debate.

Tritium released routinely and by accident in nuclear power generation, is an additional risk for the population. There is no technology available to filter this tritium which emits beta particles and can cause mutations/cancers. Tritium has a half life of 12.3years.

Nuclear plants also require water for cooling, thus these plants are built close to water sources, and the warm water is released into the water source causing damage to marine environment. This is bound to affect the livelihood of the population, largely fishermen in that location. The life and security of the population is impacted negatively, and in the existing scenario of inadequacy of security and health care systems, there is urgent need to upgrade these systems ahead of power generation. The upgrade must be able to meet this additional load.

New Delhi has also to consider the signing of the Convention of Supplementary Compensation, an international fund to cover the affected aam aadmi in case of accidental harm. The next question is of equity in 123. The 123 has led to an ease in trading in nuclear fuel through the NSG waiver. This has been of value science as we conserve our own reserves of fuel. Do we need the US for plant-building science when they have minimum expertise in building, advanced design, maintenance and safety issues? The US may not be interested in these projects in the absence of a third party risk cap in case of accidents saboteurs and acts of terrorism.

We may not be interested in having them build plants in the light of the no stockpile of fuel clause in the 123. The plant building plan would be aided by having treaties with France, Russia and the UK, with the provision that we can stockpile fuel for these plants to insure uninterrupted supply chain. These efforts will take care of a 6-7% increase in energy generation. Further, the FBR (fast breeder reactor) research using thorium should receive adequate resource for further urgent development. These research facilities should be kept outside the IAEA purview.

The right to shift facilities from civilian to military lists (and the reverse) should be with India. This right is being exercised by the US for its own facilities. The strategic nuclear programme requires computer simulation for maintenance of the arsenal and development. This is the route to credible deterrence and that the treaty should provide access to advanced technologies in this regard.

The 123 agreement needs to be examined in the light of India's Nuclear Doctrine of no first use, and the need of maintaining a minimal deterrence. The need for continual review is imperative because of the rapidly changing scenario in our neighbourhood. A review and renew clause is thus critically needed.

The 123 agreement has been entered in great secrecy not as between two governments. Recall that the Congress-led UPA government did not have some of its coalition partners in favour of it. The debate in Parliament too and the manner of obtaining votes left much to be desired. The political parties, the think tanks, and the people need to be in the decision loop, despite the Congress’ performance this election. This needs a correction. In fact, a debate even at this stage will remove all suspicion and may help produce resonance all around.

It is well-known that our partner in the 123 agreement is a major debtor of China. It is also likely that the US in its war against terror in Afghanistan will require Pakistan as a partner for an indefinite period. Thus, in the light of the above concerns it is time that we renew the 123 agreement to address these concerns and ensure the objective of the agreement in clear terms, in this deep global recession era. The negotiations will also aid our treaty partners, the US to appreciate our concerns at length. In effect, this aids the defining, abiding and enduring of the treaty.

Self reliance provides an excellent posture to obtain a symmetric deal. This posture would be convincing if we could continue to build our power plants through the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) with funds raised through Energy bonds open to Indians and the NRI's and other investors abroad in international currencies.

This self-reliance stance will be furthered if we provide support for research and product development in this area of alternate renewable energy using manpower and material from within the country itself. To complete this self reliant theme, it would be wise for us to invest in mining, handling, and purifying our uranium reserves and prospecting for new sites. The present reserves should keep us going for our energy and strategic requirements for at least the next 40years. --INFA   

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)



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