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Dr Sandeep Pandey: An Ominous Deal

article on 9th anniversary of India's nuclear tests (11 May 2007)

An Ominous Deal

By Dr Sandeep Pandey

India is celebrating 9 years since it conducted it's first successful nuclear tests on 11 May 1998, ironically on Buddha Purnima.

It has also recently concluded Nuclear deal with the US without realizing the trap it is falling into. This is not the first time that India has embarked upon an ambitious nuclear power project. The father of the India nuclear programme Homi Bhabha had dreamt of India producing a significant share of its power from nuclear energy, at the time of Independence . However, the ensuing decades witnessed what can only be described as a failed project, with ultimately India being able to produce less than 10% of the projected target and all its nuclear power plants having run into some problem or the other. In fact, in one of the years in 80s the power required to keep these plants running was more than what was being produced by these plants. Some people conjecture that testing of the nuclear weapons in 1998 had more to do with saving the Department of Atomic Energy than to add to the military might of the country. If we go by the fact that there was an instant increase in budget of DAE by 68% after the weapons' testing it may not be difficult to believe this, given the sorry state of affairs of nuclear power production.

If we have had a very poor performance in running our nuclear power programme why are we suddenly enthusiastic about another grand nuclear dream? The enthusiasm has less to do with the possibility of acquiring nuclear technology than the fact the US has recognized our status as a 'responsible' nuclear state and we're a step closer to capturing a seat in the Security Council. While the President, taking a cue from the Indo-US deal, has laid emphasis on 'energy security' as a priority for the country, we are not even able to provide the most basic 'food security'. The country has just passed its first employment guarantee Act, which is only a guarantee in the name. People continue to live under conditions of malnourishment and extreme poverty. The nuclear weapons or and energy programme is not going to make these people, who will easily outnumber the class which will use electricity from the nuclear power, any more secure.

We should ask ourselves the question why countries which are no longer investing in nuclear power programme on their own lands are warming up to India to undertake this very expensive and unsafe method of power production. The US itself, Canada, England, Germany have not installed any new nuclear power plant in their country for the last 25 years. Australia, the biggest producer of Uranium, doesn't have a nuclear power programme at all. Except for France, Japan and a few more smaller countries, which have adopted nuclear power programmes more because of lack of any viable alternatives, the general understanding among scientists world wide is that nuclear energy is unsafe. Nobody has the answer to the problem of nuclear waste disposal. There are now concrete evidences of radiation having caused devastating effects in lives of people, mostly poor and tribals, who are exposed to radiation, right from Uranium mining sites to the vicinity of nuclear power plants. Anybody who needs a proof needs to only pay a visit to the Uranium mining sites in Jadugoda near Jamshedpur. The scientists and leaders, whose careers have benefited from nuclear weapons or power programmes, who choose not to talk about the dangers associated with exposure to nuclear radiation, are committing a serious crime against humanity, for it is the numerous generations to come who'll pay the price for their tinkering with Uranium buried underground.

The truth behind the US encouraging India to go in the direction of more nuclear power has already been very explicitly stated by George Bush in one of his speeches. Bush has said that India must adopt nuclear power to lessen the burden over petroleum resources. India with its big population stakes claim to a big chunk of petroleum resources. If India were to use other ways of power production it would free up some of petroleum for more developed countries for some more time. And what other method could be better than nuclear, whose technology and raw material, needs to be disposed off by the rich countries. A technology which they have tried and rejected. The big market that India opens up to them provides them an opportunity to make quick big money. Even a more moderate state like Canada doesn't have qualms in giving up its principled stand of not selling any nuclear material to India after India went ahead with its first testing in 1974, essentially using the technology provided by Canada and US for its 'atoms for peace' programme to develop the potential for making a bomb.

The Indo-US nuclear deal is also a major setback to the Indo-Pak peace process. The people of the sub-continent have lot of expectations from Manmohan Singh and Pervez Musharraf in terms of delivering peace. But disarmament initiatives must accompany any honest process of creating peace. The potential of making use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes for developing bombs will make anybody suspicious. India, Pakistan and Israel, the three major countries which are guilty of not having signed on the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, have done this in the past. We must accept the basic truth that India has used its 'atoms for peace' or peaceful use of nuclear energy programme to make a bomb and hence there is no such thing as a 'responsible' nuclear state. The act of making nuclear weapons or even nuclear power are highly irresponsible ones. They will only fuel another round of arms race with Pakistan. If US has for the time being chosen to cohort India instead of Pakistan as its ally in the region it is not because of any ideological reasons but because it sees the potential of exploiting the big Indian market. India, by giving up its policy of maintaining a respectable distance from the US, is submitting its sovereignty to the only super power in the world. It is ominous for the India people. They have to now worry about more than defending themselves against nuclear radiation.


( Dr Sandeep Pandey is recepient of Ramon Magsaysay Award (2002) for emergent leadership. He is the former faculty member, IIT Kanpur, and did his PhD from University of California, Berkeley. Presently he heads National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) in India. He can be contacted at: ashaashram @

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