In all the noise building up over India’s draft safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the chances are that basic common sense is getting drowned. And it would be unfortunate if this important step towards much needed mainstreaming of India’s nuclear sector gets sacrificed at the altar of political and/or ideological egos.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint.
It is a moot question, of course, whether the current political crisis could have been averted, had the United Progressive Alliance been more effective in its communication strategy at home.
That said, the latest agreement is a must for India to access crucial fuel, equipment and technology from countries possessing these, including the US, as laid out in the 123 Agreement of 2007 with the US. And it provides assurance to the world that India won’t divert nuclear fuel supplied to this country into making weapons, but would use it only for civilian, peaceful purposes.
One of the vital civilian uses is nuclear energy — that will substantially augment efforts for hydropower, natural gas and clean coal-based power, etc., to cope with the shortages of electricity in an expanding Indian economy. We have to set our priorities with this perspective.
A key opposition is that with safeguards imposed in perpetuity, India will forfeit the right to secure its sovereign, security interests through its nuclear weapons programme. That is not quite the case. First, the safeguards will apply to facilities of India’s choice — and only in the context of imported fuel and other material. Second, India can do what it wants with its unsafeguarded facilities — existing or subsequently built — as long as it uses domestic fuel. And none can stop it from enhancing mining efforts to tap its significant domestic resource potential.
A related opposition is regarding assured fuel supply. Here, the agreement accepts the notion of stockpiling reserves. That’s a provision India requires to meet contingencies of supply disruption. Besides, fuel imports are commercial deals with respective nations, and the 123 Agreement along with the safeguards will create the conditions for fuel imports banned at present.
The choice is whether it’s formal recognition of nuclear weapons ability or energy to fuel economic prowess that we want more. Also, as scientist Siegfried Hecker said in April in the US Senate, “we may limit ourselves by not having access to India’s nuclear technology”, the world already recognizes us. And to fill the gaps in expertise, we now need to mainstream ourselves.
Finally, it is up to us how we interpret “corrective measures” — let us not underestimate future governments’ ability, should any contingency arise where we must detonate bombs. Meanwhile, let’s proceed to light the bulbs.
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