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Strategic Part of India's Civilian Nuclear Plans

Strategic Part of India's Civilian Nuclear Plans

by J. Sri Raman,
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

We are beginning by briefly revisiting Kaiga, the site of a nuclear complex in India's southern State of India, close to the country's west coast. It was also the venue of a mysterious death. The event was covered in these columns (Death of an Indian Nuclear Scientist, June 24, 2009). We are not returning here because we have more clues to the truth about the tragedy. Not yet.

Kaiga, meanwhile, has figured in reports of another kind. On June 26, "a top nuclear scientist," presumably of this atomic power station, let the media know that the place was "being pushed as the location for US companies to set up new reactors."

Around the same time, the US Congress was reportedly told that the Barack Obama administration expected India to offer two locations for US nuclear firms to install reactors when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits India. She is likely to do so in the second half of July, and New Delhi has to decide soon on its proposal.

There are indications that the decision may not be influenced solely and strictly by considerations of "civilian nuclear energy cooperation" - the avowed objective of the US-India nuclear deal that has opened the door for legitimized nuclear commerce to the largest South Asian nation.

Talking of the questions raised over the mystery death of scientist Lokanathan Mahalingam, we noted the ones provoked in particular by the non-civilian aspect of Kaiga's nuclear reactors. The complex, in operation under the Nuclear Power Corporation of India for over nine years now, has four of the eight reactors officially acknowledged as strategic and placed outside the purview of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.

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The scientist, who told the media on condition of anonymity about the Kaiga move, said that a governmental committee had "zoomed in" on about a dozen possible sites for new nuclear power plants. He left very little doubt that the strong push for Kaiga as a venue for US nuclear ventures was coming from India.

Does the proposal have anything to do with New Delhi's keenness to ensure that IAEA inspections of the new reactors are as non-intrusive as possible? The assumption is hardly far-fetched, considering the freely aired hope that such collaborations will culminate in India's eventual admission into the "nuclear club," members of which have neither intrusive inspections nor any sanctions to fear.

As for the size of collaborations envisaged, the Indian government was recently reported to have told Washington of readiness for a deal worth $150 billion for US nuclear reactors (with a total capacity of 10,000 MWe), equipment and materials. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Special Envoy Shyam Saran had also made the mouth-watering promise that the US companies would "benefit for decades" by bagging a huge chunk of Indian military hardware orders as well.

Other collaborations are under active consideration as well. Negotiations are known to have made much progress with four global players in the field: General Electric-Hitachi, Toshiba-Westinghouse, Areva of France, and Atomstroyeksport of Russia. Six to eight reactors, of 1,000-1,650 MW, are to be installed at each of the dozen nuclear parks to be set up in different States across the country, with a preference for the already calamity-prone coastal regions.

India's corporates cannot contain their glee and can hardly wait for the goodies on the way. In April 2009, the Confederation of Industry (CII) housed a conference in Mumbai on "Opportunities and challenges for nuclear power in India." Addressing the conference, Anil Kokadkar, chairman of India's Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), said: "International nuclear power firms are now eyeing partnerships and collaborations with Indian companies."

But he added that the Indian companies should "exercise due diligence and read the fine print before signing deals with foreign nuclear power firms," He also stressed that "such agreements should not limit their (the Indian firms') ability to supply equipment for other segments of the nuclear market."

The Indian big business and nuclear establishment (including its bomb lobby), however, are blithely optimistic about what they consider the inevitable outcome of the coming series of collaborations. As they see it, it is the logic of outsourcing that is making the multinational corporations opt for these collaborations. The logic of the collaborations, in turn, will make India a de facto member of the "nuclear club," despite provisions of the discriminatory Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Presenting the argument, columnist Swaminathan Aiyar writes: "The multinationals of France, US and Japan want to manufacture nuclear equipment in India to meet not just Indian but global demand. Once India becomes part of the global supply chain, it will become effectively sanctions-proof. As a supplier of global equipment, it will be in a position to impose sanctions on others, not just be at the receiving end."

Playing the ominous oracle, he pronounces: "That's why the biggest hawks in our nuclear establishment, who badly want nuclear testing in the distant future, can relax on the issue of sanctions. De facto, India will become a member of the privileged P 5 when it becomes part of the global supply chain of nuclear equipment in the next 10 years."

This is a prospect that the peace movement in India and the region has to face. The June issue of the journal of India's Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (CNDP), Peace Now, in its editorial, recalls that the US-India nuclear deal did not figure as an issue in the country's recent general election (with the far-right opposition dropping even its feigned opposition to it). The editorial warns: "That would, however, not stop the ruling party claiming popular endorsement for the deal and the further process to follow - i.e. installation of new nuclear power plants - is likely to be stepped considerably up."

"The only possible hiccup." says the CNDP, "is paucity of investible funds given the serious downturn in global economy. But that may not be too great a hurdle."

Paucity of funds has not stopped the nuclear militarists of this poor country so far. It certainly won't be a hurdle when they expect the new reactors to seat them at the world's high nuclear table.


A freelance journalist and a peace activist in India, J. Sri Raman is the author of "Flashpoint" (Common Courage Press, USA). He is a regular contributor to Truthout.

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