New Delhi: The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the apex body that controls global nuclear commerce, could approve new norms that could nix India’s plans to freely acquire sensitive nuclear knowhow.
A senior government official, who did not want to be identified, disclosed that India was closely monitoring the ongoing meetings in the Hague.
At stake is the special exemption that was granted to India in 2008 by the NSG. Despite India not signing the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) and not opening up all of its nuclear reactors for international scrutiny, it was allowed, as an exception, to buy power plants, equipment and technology from the international market.
The Hindu was the first to report the development on Saturday.
Access to reprocessing and enrichment technology was implicit in this exemption, according to Rajeshwari Rajagopalan, senior fellow at think tank Observation Research Foundation.
But now, with the proposed guidelines seeking that technology transfers be allowed only if the recipient state fulfils certain criteria—including NPT membership—India’s deal with the NSG could be in trouble.
India “has deep reservations about any move by the NSG that prevents the transfer of these technologies...that will dilute the import and the whole message of the exemption that was given in 2008”, said a government official who refused to be named.
The exemption was part of a process that saw the removal of three-decade-old embargoes against nuclear commerce between India and the world—despite the country having conducted nuclear tests in 1974 and 1998, and rejecting as discriminatory the NPT that aims to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and related technology.
The NSG waiver was also pushed through by the US, with which India worked out a significant bilateral pact in 2008 that opened the doors for the sale of US atomic plants to India. More than anything else, the India-US pact was seen as the high watermark of the new relationship between the world’s oldest and the largest democracies.
But with NSG countries including the US pushing for the new criteria, including adherence to the NPT, against the backdrop of illegal transfers of technology and countries trying to get their hands on nuclear technology, the “nuclear renaissance” in the world with many countries opting to set up plants for power production, India is feeling the pinch, said Rajagopalan.
“In 2008, India got a clean exemption from the NSG in keeping with its impeccable non-proliferation record among other things. If the new rules come in, then it is a retreat from the NSG exemption,” said another official.
The new rules, in discussion for many years, have not been passed yet because of internal differences within the NSG mainly on the requirement of signing an additional protocol. According to reports, Argentina, Brazil and South Africa were some of the countries with reservations.
Jo-Ansie Van Wyk, a professor on nuclear issues at the University of South Africa in Pretoria, said South Africa’s reservations were largely because it felt some of “the (NSG) conditions are detrimental to the interests of developing countries—affecting plans of developing countries to set up nuclear power stations for energy”. Plans for a nuclear fuel bank in NSG member Russia was seen as concentrating technology and knowhow in the hands of the developed world, she said in emailed comments.
“There have been consultations between the US and South Africa on these concerns in the past year or so and in these meetings there could have been some deal struck,” Van Wyk said.
As India is not a part of the 45-member NSG grouping, it can only work through countries such as the US, France and Russia—all interested in selling nuclear power plants to the energy-deficient South Asian nation that produces only 5,000 megawatts (MW) of nuclear power at present, but plans to increase it to 20,000MW by 2020.
Correspondence between the US and India that was leaked to WikiLeaks revealed that foreign secretary Nirupama Rao had conveyed India’s reservations to Ellen Tauscher, US undersecretary for arms control and international security. It was also discussed during the ongoing visit of Robert Blake, US assistant secretary of state for South Asia.
Rajeshwari agreed with Arundhati Ghosh, former Indian ambassador to Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament, that there were several contradictions in the US position.
The US agreed to support India’s entry into the NSG when US President Barack Obama visited in November. “But this in turn requires India to be party to the NPT,” said Rajagopalan. Ghosh added that if this confusion was not resolved, “there could be consequences for the overall Indo-US relationship”.