The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has voted to create a fuel bank to provide nuclear fuel to countries that want to pursue nuclear power generation.
Nuclear materials from the facility will be available to countries that accept IAEA safeguards. It is this feature of the proposal that has led to consternation in some circles.
India voted in favour of the US-backed measure at IAEA on Friday. Twenty-eight other members of the 35-nation IAEA board also voted in favour of the measure. There were no votes against the resolution while six countries—the list makes for interesting reading—abstained. Pakistan did not participate in the proceedings.
In theory, every country has the right to create nuclear fuel on its own. Countries that have signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) even get help to do so as their nuclear facilities are under IAEA safeguards. There are three exceptions—India, Israel and Pakistan. There are other non-NPT-adhering countries, notably Iran and North Korea, that are fabricating nuclear fuel. This has led to misgivings in the international community on their ability to divert this material for making weapons. The nuclear fuel bank is the first step in ensuring that countries get nuclear fuel but do not divert it to make weapons.
Countries that abstained from the measure—Argentina, Brazil, Eucador, South Africa, Tunisia and Venezuela—have either given up the nuclear weapons option (for example, South Africa) or believe the IAEA proposal is a US bid to prevent countries from pursuing legitimate ambitions (Venezuela, for example).
It is in this context that India’s vote in favour of the proposal has attracted controversy. There is no doubt that it marks a departure from India’s traditional stance that NPT is a discriminatory treaty. But it is also a fact that India’s vote comes very close to giving up that position, notwithstanding the explanations proffered by spokespersons. The argument that the Indian delegate at IAEA made an Explanation of Vote (EoV) —specifying India’s stand on the issues (such as safeguards) that we had taken exception to for long—makes for weak defence.
Instead of relying on the EoV as a cover, left to a ministry spokesman to fend, minister for external affairs S.M. Krishna should have offered a full explanation for our position. There are fears that India has been locked by the US in a nuclear hug. The minister should allay these fears. Indian support for such measures in a volatile world that prevent the spread of nuclear weapons in reckless hands is to be welcomed. India is a responsible member of the international nuclear order. Keeping countries that harbour dangerous nuclear ambitions in check is a right thing to do.
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