Is India a Prisoner of the Nuclear Dream?
C R Sridhar
The political crisis of the Manmohan Singh government over the nuclear deal was luridly and graphically presented today on the front page of a mainstream English national paper. It showed the crisply turbaned Prime Minister in a vice like grip of the hammer and sickle.
With the CPM threatening to withdraw support to the UPA Government over the N-deal, the Congress is widely perceived as being stabbed in the back by the left parties. This perception is incorrect, as the BJP has also voiced its misgivings about the implications of the deal and denounced the agreement as compromising national security interests of the country. The opposition to the Indo-US agreement has unwittingly united both the left and right spectrum of Indian politics in a coalition of the unwilling. That this coalition is temporary, transient and uneasy could be gleaned by the fact that both the parties have expressed their differing perspectives on the deal, with eyes on the mid term poll, should the UPA government fall. The left parties, for instance, see the agreement as flawed as it paves way for a strategic alliance with US and the danger of India becoming a mere pawn in the great game of US foreign policy. The BJP, while offering stiff opposition to the deal, sees the dark shadow of the Hyde Act falling on the agreement nullifying the Indo-US cooperation if India explodes a nuclear device.
To add to the discomfiture of the Congress led Government; there has been a chorus of dissent from nuclear scientists who expressed their dismay that once India signs the deal she would be at the mercy of the US and the Nuclear Suppliers Group. As P.K. Iyengar, the former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, points out 'where they err is in not understanding that the nuclear deal will not achieve this goal, that we will lose more than we gain through the deal. For one, we are getting neither nuclear fuel nor reactors for free or at a low cost but at the prevailing market price, and this is definitely more than the cost of indigenous nuclear power. Secondly, the promise of nuclear technology rings hollow- it comes too late and offers too little. Today, we are quite self-sufficient in the technology of heavy-water reactors, and are world leaders in the technology of fast-breeder reactors.'
There appears to be consensus on the issue that the Indo-US civilian nuclear cooperation agreement is essentially about providing additional nuclear generation capability to India. As Dr. Sethi, a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi, says 'the agreement holds the relatively immediate promise of making nuclear fuel available to India from the international market, thereby enabling it to expand its nuclear programme.' Thus, if India wants to achieve development and growth for its teeming millions, safeguarding energy is a strategic priority.
But fundamental doubts do persist about the false assumptions underlying the use of nuclear power for economic development. Perhaps, the most erudite dissent emerged from Late Amulya K N Reddy who was a Professor at the Indian Institute of Science. In his brilliant critique 'False Assumption of Nuclear Deal', Prof Reddy challenged the basic assumptions driving the need for nuclear power and nuclear weapons that underlie India's enthusiasm to seek US cooperation in this field. (False Assumptions of Nuclear Deal- Amulya K N Reddy- EPW- August 27, 2005)
Firstly, there is an erroneous assumption that Nuclear Power is important to India's electricity sector. As Prof Reddy points out, 'this bias is strange because Nuclear Power accounts today a trivial 3% of India's power, i.e., 3,310MW, out of 110000 MW.' 'In fact,' argues Prof Reddy, ' Nuclear Power does not even contribute as much as the 3,595 MW of wind power.' More ominously Prof Reddy concludes, 'the reason why renewable energy technologies (solar, wind, small hydro and biomass) and efficiency improvements are not part of the agreement is probably because they are not backed by lobbies as powerful as the nuclear establishment.' 'It is also possible,' continues Prof Reddy, 'that the real reason for the discrimination in favour of Nuclear Power is its weapons implications.'
Secondly, it is incorrect to assume that India's sluggish contribution of Nuclear power would have been higher had it not been handicapped by material constraints such as non-availability of indigenous cheap uranium for heavy water reactors, the unavailability of enriched uranium for its light water reactors and the inadequacy of heavy water for heavy reactors. Though these factors are important, the real constraint is financial. As Prof Reddy explains, 'Nuclear Power is more expensive, compared to coal based thermal plants for electricity generation.' Thus, even if the material constraints are removed by the Nuke deal, it remains extremely doubtful that India's Nuclear would leap to 20,000 MW in 2020 as planned.
Thirdly, apart from costs other issues militate against the use of Nuclear Power such as safety, toxic nuclear waste disposal, and vulnerability to terrorist hijacking of nuclear material.
Fourthly, the assumption that Nuclear Power is clean environmentally is not valid, as studies have indicated that as an energy tool for decarbonising the power sector, it is limited. There are two points to counter the decarbonisation mantra. It must be borne in mind that carbon emissions come from the power sector (around 45%- in 2000) and emissions from non-power sectors including transport (55%). Thus, even if one were to eliminate carbon emissions from the power sector there would be still significant amount of carbon emissions in the environment. Moreover, even the nuclear route leads to carbon emissions from the nuclear fuel cycles. Thus, a study by Kalipada Chatterjee (Equity and Climate change) indicates that even if the plans for nuclear expansion is successful, the extent of decarbonisation of the power sector remains limited.
Lastly, the perception that India's security is guaranteed by the State becoming nuclear through the possession of nuclear weaponry is hollow, as several authors including Amartya Sen have shown that the security has in fact decreased. Post Pokhran II the demonstration of the bomb has not increased her security vis a vis Pakistan in any real sense, as Pakistan is already a nuclear state. Moreover, any wrong cues sent to Pakistan would start a nuclear race with Pakistan seeking the help of China. There are reports suggesting that China has offered her support to Pakistan to counter the threat posed by India through the nuclear pact with US. Instead of the bomb to enhance her status in the world community, India could profitably exploit her enormous progress in the BPO/software IT sector to leverage the situation to her advantage as she forms a formidable strategic alliance by providing IT back up to major US and European corporations.
India's nuclear ambition is intimately fused with her quest for the great power status in the sub- continent. Increasingly, the bomb lobby- a strategic core group comprising ideologues of Right wing political parties, key scientocrats heading important government departments like DAE and DRDO and strategic experts belonging to think tank foundations- has stridently called for reshaping of India's nuclear policy by aligning the nation to US geopolitical interests. The semantics of the debate on nuclear issues has also altered in favour of 'forming strategic partnership with the world's now incontestably dominant power' and to a more adventurous nuclear armed India which must be different from the self-shackling past. [Unravelling the Self- Image of the Indian Bomb Lobby - Achin Vanaik- EPW-November 20, 2004.]
The terrible tragedy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has cast its long shadows on us as we debate our nuclear future. In the photo archives of Hiroshima there is a photograph of a Japanese lady whose back is completely burnt and with the flesh hanging from her back. This picture tells us more than a thousand words that unethical use of Nuclear power is a Faustian pact with the devil himself.
Is India a Prisoner of the Nuclear Dream?
- » Published on August 21, 2007
- » Type: Opinion
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