The Reality Of India-US Nuclear Deal

As protesters raged and chanted “global terrorist” go back across the country American president George Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh clinched a deal in nuclear cooperation.
The nuclear pact which will allow India to buy atomic technology and fuel – provided the US Congress gives its approval. It is expected to allow trade between India and other nuclear powers if the Nuclear Suppliers Group, an informal group of 40 nations that controls global nuclear transactions, also lifts sanctions. Yesterday’s deal in effect accepts India as a nuclear power.

India has 15 nuclear power plants in operation, with a generating capacity of 3,310 megawatts (MW). Seven more plants with a capacity of 3,420MW are scheduled for completion by 2009. Though the country has uranium deposits, they have not been mined in great quantities, leading to a shortage.

Timing Of The Deal

The deal has come through at a time of soaring petroleum prices and also when the threat of peak oil has come to be accepted as a reality by trade pundits. The last decade saw the growing economies of India and China putting pressure on the global supply of fossil fuels consuming ever larger quantities. As the threat of peak oil lurk in the not so distant future it was imperative for the world’s lone super power to shut the rivals out of the competition. It has been the corner stone of American foreign policy of the recent past, invading Iraq and Afghanistan, pampering the house of Saud’s , threatening Iran and Venezuela, playing murky games in Darfur.

The nuclear deal with India is not a benevolent gift from the emperor to a client state. It was a clever move to put India out of the competition for fossil fuels which is getting ever scarcer. Bush spelt it out very cleverly in New Delhi – “It’s in our economic interests that India have a civilian nuclear power industry to help take the pressure off the global demand for energy.To the extent that we can reduce demand for fossil fuels, it will help the American consumer.”

Some History

In the Cabinet reshuffle of last month , Mani Shankar Aiyar was stripped of the Petroleum, Oil and Natural Gas portfolio at a critical juncture in the trajectory of India’s energy economy. The charge was transferred to Murli Deora, one of India’s most right-wing, pro-U.S., and pro-big business politicians.

Mani Shankar Aiyar had been named by several of India’s leading newspapers as the most able member of the UPA cabinet. He was a vocal proponent of the scheme to build a pipeline to deliver Iranian gas to Pakistan and India. The Bush administration has repeatedly made clear that it is adamantly opposed to the building of such a pipeline.

Aiyar also championed the development of an “Asian energy grid” to lessen Asian dependence on western-based oil companies, and promoted cooperation between India and China in overseas energy exploration and production.

The US government formally protested against a deal Aiyar helped put together that saw the two largest sate-owned oil companies in India and China jointly purchase a stake in oil and gas properties in Syria.

Murali Deora on the other hand is so closely identified with the U.S. that he is seen as a contact or liaison man by many. He himself makes no bones about his proximity to the U.S. or his intimacy with business houses, some with a major stake in petroleum.

You Go Nuke, We Keep What We Get

The deal also seems to be guided by the concerns of global warming and climate change, with the lopsided assumption that nuclear energy is clean, that too by two of the biggest polluters of the world who both refuse to sign the Kyoto protocol.

The nuclear energy is promoted both as a clean energy low on emission and the energy of the future that will combat “Peak Oil”. Both assumptions are misguided. Not a single repository exists for the disposal of high-level radioactive waste, which is produced at an annual rate of about 10,000 tonnes in nuclear power reactors worldwide. Technologies exist to encapsulate or immobilise radionuclides to a greater or lesser degree, but encapsulated radioactive waste still represents a potential public health and environmental threat that will last for millennia.

Building more nuclear reactors will surely create public outrage in the US. So the safer bet is to transfer the nuclear technology to a responsible client country in the third world. That is exactly what is happening with this nuclear deal.

As the US takes the war on terror (read war on resources) to newer and newer grounds, India is asked to keep within its own borders and nuke its own people.

Binu Mathew is the editor of He can be reached at [email protected]

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