Against the Indo-US Nuclear Deal


Amidst countrywide protests in India, the President of United States, George W. Bush  Jr., the killer Bush, visited India on 2nd and 3rd March, and ultimately succeeded in signing the Indo-US (nuclear) deal with the Indian Prime minister Dr. Manmohan Singh. The deal has been called “historic”, and so was the way New Delhi literally fell on it’s knees to welcome the person who in all probability would be tried for war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, in years to come. Both sides woo-ed each other like newly weds, in royal durbars. On the Indian side especially, it appeared that they did not represent a sovereign country anymore, but some state in US instead. And outside, protests raged far and wide against Bush’s visit, which even turned violent in some places.

Protests were reported from across Uttar Pradesh (UP), being organized by the Left parties, many muslim organizations, and also women’s organizations. Traders downed the shutters in several districts like Kanpur, Bareilly and Meerut. In Delhi, amidst extremely tight security arrangements made for Bush’s visit, protest rallies were organized by the Left parties and Samajwadi Party at Ramlila Grounds, which then moved towards Jantar Mantar. The leaders warned the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government at the Center, against ignoring popular sentiment and aligning with the US. They demanded prosecution of President Bush, blaming him for the deaths of 1.5 lakh people in Iraq. “He should be treated like a ‘war criminal’” was their demand. They protested against the deal, which they alleged was decided upon in haste, without taking everyone into confidence. Even Parliament work was stalled as the Members of Parliament protested against Bush’s visit—the reason why he wasn’t called upon to address a joint session of Parliament. Similarly, there were protests in Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, and Chennai. In Bihar too there were protests both inside and outside the State Assembly. Life in South Mumbai came to a halt as 1.5 lakh people gathered at Azad Maidan to protest against the visit. Similarly, there was a massive protest rally held in Kolkata, the bastion of the Left.

What were they protesting about? Were the protests primarily against George W. Bush as a person, who epitomizes naked, heartless, unlawful aggression and carnage in today’s world, or were there deeper issues involved in these protests? Would there have been as wide spread a protest, if it had been someone other than G.W. Bush representing US, —John Kerry, for example? Well, if John Kerry had done the same things that Bush Jr. did, yes. If not, perhaps no. So, prima facie, the protests were against the killings and carnage by US in Iraq and Afghanistan. The deeper reasons hadn’t sunk in yet, in the psyche of the common people, because they, in fact still do not understand the deep and far reaching implications of the deal, if it does come into force.

Though there are many sub-deals in the deal, which if read in isolation are important enough, the central theme of the deal is the nuclear deal, and all other deals seem peripheral to that deal. On the surface, and in a very straight forward language, the Indo-US nuclear deal is an attempt by the “benevolent” US to solve the problems of acute power shortages in India, by allowing and enabling India to build and run nuclear power plants, which would provide electricity to the power hungry masses. It would allow full civilian nuclear energy cooperation between India and US, and also between India and other Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) countries. The accord would pave the way for US companies to sell nuclear equipment, technologies and also fuel to India. This accord is a follow up of the July 18, 2005 commitments by US and India on civilian nuclear cooperation, which in turn was an offshoot of the Bush Energy Bill passed by the US Congress last July, which decided to provide nuclear power industry in US with $12 billion in subsidies to build new nuclear power plants.

For about fifty years, India and US have had differences, especially in the nuclear arena, and the restraints hadn’t allowed India’s nuclear power industry to become a big factor. But today, in the changing global scenario, for which, US itself is responsible to a large extent, the strategic interests of US have changed, and so, G.W. Bush came and said, “I want that deal”! The deal will have to be passed by the US Congress and accepted by the NSG. Corporate America has hailed the Indo-US nuke deal, and has stepped up its efforts to obtain an agreement from the Congress.

Before we analyze the main accord in detail, here are the other secondary accords, highly
significant in their own right. (1) India and US have signed an agreement on launching of satellites. It will facilitate India to launch satellites licensed by US and also to launch third country satellites carrying US controlled items. (2) India and US would strengthen cooperation to combat AIDS globally and encourage corporate participation in the field. (3) India can now export irradiated mangoes to US. (4) About forty Indian agricultural universities have been identified for collaboration in the areas of biotechnology, food processing and marketing, water management and education. (5) India has agreed to liberalize the retail and financial sectors. (6) India is to participate in international thermonuclear energy research (7) India seeks membership in the Integrated Ocean development program. (8) Besides civilian nuclear energy, India and US have agreed to cooperate in other energy sectors too, including oil, natural gas and coal. And lastly, the most important, (9) India-US partnership will spread democracy around the world. It seems Bush administration has recently earmarked millions of dollars to spread democracy in Venezuela and Iran.

It doesn’t need much analysis to read the designs of US. It indeed wants India to become a “state” of US, and literally to surrender its sovereignty. What does the 9th accord above mean? In return for the nuclear accord, in the name of democracy, like Britain and others, now India too should be sending troops to various countries, to go and torture the native population there? — Unfortunately, this will never happen. It would not be allowed. Even the other agreements clearly show the designs of US, in wanting to turn India into a corporate country. Of course, the Corporate India is all too willing, but the masses aren’t. The Bush administration wants Monsanto to rule India, by producing “terminator” seeds.  The Left has vehemently protested against these designs, and a lot of work is needed to educate the masses.

Nuclear Deal

The main thrust of the deal is that, civilian and military nuclear facilities and programs have to be identified and separated in a phased manner, and India must voluntarily place its civilian nuclear facilities under IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) safeguards. India would declare fourteen of its twenty-three reactors, as part of its civilian program and place them under international monitoring. Eight reactors, which are under construction, including five Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs), two Russian built Light Water Reactors (LWRs) and one Fast Breeder Reactor (FBR), wouldn’t be covered by safeguards and could supply plutonium for weapons. The safeguards do not cover the existing spent reactor fuel, which contains enough plutonium for more than thousand weapons, and a facility for enriching uranium, which can be used to make nuclear weapons. Thus, India can now make as many nuclear weapons as it wants.

India can build Fast Breeder Reactors on its own, and its technology is one of the most advanced in the world. These would remain outside the purview of  IAEA safeguards and international inspections, as will be around 35% of country’s thermonuclear power generating capacity. About 65% of India’s nuclear power capacity would come under international safeguards. Full implementation of the separation plan would not materialize before 2014. It would be India’s sovereign decision to classify as civilian or military, any future reactor it might construct. India would have the right to take corrective measures should the fuel supply be stopped as had happened in the case of Tarapur plants.

Against the Nuclear Deal

The arguments for the nuclear deal are many, and one would naturally ask, why shouldn’t that be welcome, since, with the changing life styles, India’s energy demands are exploding every day? However, it would appear that, the main argument for building and activating nuclear energy (NE) power plants in India is that, there are more than 110 NE plants in US, and NE is America’s second largest source of electric power after coal. France, uses NE extensively, and worldwide there are 442 nuclear power plants at work. So, one would say that they are time tested and safe. But this is a very superficial picture, as we shall point out.

It is also argued that electricity derived from NE is cheap and clean. NE plants do not pollute the air and do not produce green house gases. But, they produce radioactive emissions, with irreversible, and extremely harmful effects. There have been studies to prove it. (See http://zmagsite.zmag.org/Mar2006/steinberg0306.html ). And nobody talks about that. And above all, the central question is, “How is the highly radioactive waste handled”?  There is no foolproof method to eliminate radioactive waste, and it appears that its best use is to convert them into nuclear weapons. So, civilian nuclear energy program is intimately tied up with the production of nuclear weapons, whether one admits it or not. If some country wants to use NE only for civilian use, i.e., for producing electricity mainly, it would either have to transport that waste to some other country which produces weapons, or produce weapons itself. Of course, there are various ways of dealing with the radioactive wastes from nuclear power plants (see below), but, if we have an active plant, the waste will also be more, and will not be consumed by standard methods. And, exposure to radioactive waste is as good as being exposed to a nuclear bomb. When dealing with nuclear energy, there cannot be any scope for mistakes and corrections. Hence, one must think thousand times before getting into such deals, and avoid it as much as possible. India’s electricity requirement must be met in a different manner, through alternative sources of energy, and not by NE— and above all, not the way US solves its problems.

About Nuclear Power Plants, and Waste Disposal

In a nuclear power plant, the energy needed to produce steam from water, which in turn spins the shaft of a huge generator to produce electricity, is produced by splitting atoms of uranium in a nuclear reactor, i.e., by the fission process. All these reactors produce plutonium as waste, a highly radioactive material used for making nuclear weapons. 

Though the electricity produced by the reactors is not radioactive, there is radioactivity all over the place in a nuclear reactor. The “low level” radioactive wastes include materials used to handle the highly radioactive parts of nuclear reactors (i.e., cooling water pipes, radiation suits etc). Levels of radioactivity and half-life of radioactive isotopes in low level waste is relatively small. However, they need to be stored for about 10-50 years, to allow most of radioactive isotopes to decay, after which, the waste can be disposed off without any danger. “High level” radioactive wastes are materials obtained from the core of the nuclear reactor and also the nuclear weapons. This waste includes uranium, plutonium and other highly radioactive elements made during fission. Most of the radioactive isotopes in high-level waste emit large amounts of radiation and have extremely long half lives (some even greater than 100,000 years). The problem of disposal of high-level radioactive wastes should be the central reason against the construction and and running of nuclear power plants. How does one deal with them?  Either by  “long term storage”, or by “transmutation”. Long-term storage means storing them for thousands of years away from the reach of humanity or any other kind of life. And that can be done either in space, or under the seabed, both extremely costly projects, and fraught with danger. It poses danger to the planet as a whole. Radioactive waste can be left in space by a rocket (in fact Russians have already done it). But there is danger of collision with other bodies in space, and which can in turn come back to earth. And, there is danger of accidents, which would cause catastrophic results. Burial of radioactive waste under the seabed too is full of danger. Radioactivity can escape into water above, and if there were under water earthquake like recent “Tsunami”, there wouldn’t be much left of life on earth. Hence, “transmutation”, would be the best alternative, i.e., converting highly radioactive elements with long half-life, into less radioactive elements with shorter half-lives. FBRs and Hybrid Reactors are used for transmutation. But, it does not eliminate radioactivity. And it is preferred under the assumption that slow emissions for a shorter duration are less harmful—once again a false assumption. Exposure to radioactive rays is by definition extremely harmful, can cause deformities, mutation, cancer, and death. Transmutation is a solution only by a relative standard. The arguments are thus quite circular, as is the process. The bottom line is that, radioactive waste cannot be disposed of safely and completely, and greater the use of nuclear energy for production of electricity, greater will be the waste. There is a limit to “long term storage”, with great environmental hazards. Hence it seems to be a compulsive necessity that the waste would be used for producing weapons and ultimately for trading in weapons. How much can one store after all?  

Also, nuclear plants have a limited life, about fifty years may be. The radioactive waste disposal of a decommissioned nuclear plant would be an enormous task. And, the plants need to be refueled after 12-18 months, when it is shut down completely. Thus, alternative arrangements must remain always.

India’ three stage nuclear power program cannot not eliminate waste

Though India claims that its three stage nuclear program takes care of the fact that it has limited uranium reserves, but vast thorium reserves, and makes judicious use of radioactive fuel in the three cycles, as it seems on paper, every stage produces high-level radioactive waste, and makes the making of weapons almost mandatory. Besides, the three-stage cycle would not be complete before 2030. Where does one store the waste until then?

Dangers

As we have pointed out above, the main argument against NE is the danger inherent in the very concept. It is impossible to make it totally safe. And in a volatile country like India, it is extremely dangerous to go nuclear in the power sector. There have been accidents in the past— at Chernobyl in USSR, at Three Mile Island near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in US. Even in US, lapses have been reported in the implementation of safeguards.

If the accord works as intended, it would be a matter of time that India too starts allowing private sector participation in the nuclear power program, with dangerous consequences. India must realize, that we simply cannot ape US. The ground realities, as well as geographical differences between the two countries are far too different. India is a country of extremes. If there are 27 billionaires in India, a huge population still lives under the poverty line, and major part of the country has extremely poor infrastructure facilities. It is impossible to obtain a reliable security with an ever exploding population, and greater the discrepancy in the standard of living, greater the risk of terrorism, naxalism, and all kinds of violence. In the name of globalization, and liberalization, the power structures today, do not administrate anymore. It is “laissez faire” everywhere. Given this scenario, nuclear power is an immensely risky venture.  

Today, it is in the strategic interest of US to cooperate with India in the civilian nuclear arena, which as we have argued above, is a sanction to produce as many nuclear weapons as India wants. Tomorrow, the strategic interests of US might change, since strategic interests are not based on any international law or morality, or ideas of the kind. Then, US would behave the same way with India, as it has done with Iraq, and now planning something similar for Iran. After all, US has its “National Security Strategy” of September 2002, according to which, US reserves the right to act unilaterally, whenever necessary, to protect its vital interests, such as access to key markets, energy supplies and strategic resources. Also, nobody can forget or ignore the fact that Saddam Husein was US’s great ally once. In fact, India’s nuclear sites can even be attacked by US and its allies, if for some reason they feel that India is not obeying their orders anymore. For example, on June 7, 1981, Israeli military had struck Iraqi nuclear reactor Osirq near Baghdad, and smashed it into pieces. How can US ever be trusted? Following is a very pertinent remark from Noam Chomsky’s  “Hegemony or Survival: America’s quest for global dominance” (Metropolitan Books: New York: 2003: 25)

“A more far reaching example of establishing norms was Israel’s bombing of the Osiraq reactor in Iraq in June 1981. At first the attack was criticized as a violation of international law. Later, after Saddam Hussein was transformed from favored friend to unspeakable fiend in August 1990, the reaction to the Osiraq bombing also shifted. Once a (minor) crime, it was now considered an honored norm, and was greatly praised for having impeded Saddam Husein’s nuclear weapons program”.

It must be the case that the deal is linked to trade in defense, which would create an explosive situation in an already unstable South Asia. And, one should not forget that too many nuclear weapons ultimately led to the bankruptcy of the Soviet Union.

If India goes the US way, we would soon see Indian Universities actively participating in the research and production of nukes, just like the Universities in US, and in the near future, we would be teaching students from other countries who would come to study here, to do the same. Can that be our goal?

Suggestions

In any case, nuclear power will begin to form a significant part of energy mix only after 2030. So, the benefits will not accrue to the masses immediately, or in the near future. And, we need power now. Hence, the accord solves nothing. Come summer, and India would be desperate for electricity, which is directly linked to the supply of water in most parts of the country. Hence, we need a power policy right now, and the policy must encourage alternate sources of electricity, that is, solar electricity mainly. Why don’t companies make good quality solar panels available at affordable rates? They would sell like hot cakes in India, and take the load off the normal electric supply greatly. As the outsourcing industry grows (which Bush has assured it would), so does the consumption of electricity by these industries, which happens at the cost of power due to the common man. We cannot wait till next year. How can we wait for even another ten years for nuclear energy to reach the masses? And, if in the next ten years, the alternate sources of energy “catch up”, the demand for nuclear power would become minimal, a very welcome development in every way.

 

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