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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 27

A Few Questions to the Prime Minister on the Proposed Indo-US Nuclear Deal

Wednesday 25 June 2008, by Sailendra Nath Ghosh


Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh has said the proposed Indo-US civil civil nuclear cooperation deal seeks to “give a new dimension to India’s relationship with the United States” and that it would end “nuclear apartheid” the world imposed on India. American supporters of the Bush Administration are persistently conveying the idea that the deal was “very much in India’s interest” and that India will be the loser if it misses this great opportunity. The Indian lobbyists for the deal, too, are singing the same tune. Some are even insinuating that the opposers have a pro-Chinese inclination.

Vast majorities of Indians feel that arrogance—whether of the US or of the Chinese variety—will fall to the dust and that India has to think clearly about its interests, regardless of allurements. The Prime Minister must, therefore, give clear and unambiguous answers to the following questions, which have been assailing the minds of the common people of this country.

(i) What exactly is the direction of the new relationship that the USA contemplates and the Government of India visualises? It does not need much intelligence to perceive that the Bush Administration which, by its Iraq invasion, has landed the USA in a “no-win” situation, in continuing economic drain and an unending prospect of American blood-letting alongside the massacre of Iraqi population and growing alienation of its European allies, is frantically trying to claim, in its fading year, the glory of enlisting India, once the “leader of the non-aligned world”, as a “firm partner of a relationship” with the USA (that is, virtually a “camp follower”). How does India view this prospect?

India is not unaware that the USA, by pursuing a hegemonistic policy, has been creating conflicts in many regions of the globe. Will India’s personnel be deployed to pull the chestnut out of the fire for the USA? What is the gain that is being dangled before India? Will the proposed “civil nuclear cooperation” deal have wonderful fall-outs in such diverse areas on dissolution of Kashmir imbroglio, resolution of the India-China border dispute, and deterrence to the Chinese drive towards encircling India? If these expectations are unrealistic, what else are the gains envisaged? India has already a friendly relationship with the USA. What is this new order of relationship? Will this not isolate India from the large numbers of developing countries whose days are coming? Will we not earn their hatred and be dubbed as renegade?

A “new dimension of relationship” is a mystical expression. Its direction must be defined, its content spelt out. That is the test of sincerity and steadfastness.

(ii) True, the Hyde Act does not bind India directly. But does it not bind the US President to report every year to the US Congress whether the country, with which the US concludes the 123 Agreement, has been behaving in a manner conducive to US interests? In this manner, does not the 123 Agreement impinge on the foreign policy of every sovereign nation, which concludes such a deal with the USA?

(iii) How is it crucial for ending the “nuclear apartheid” against India? Did Russia or France say its cooperation was dependent on India signing the “civil nuclear cooperation” agreement with the USA first?

(iv) The world knows that India is a de facto nuclear weapon state. Will the signing of this deal mean de jure recognition of India as a “nuclear weapon state”? Supposing that it does, what advantage will it give India? Some people in this country feel that the formally recognised nuclear weapon states have the right to conduct nuclear tests. Is this correct at all? Moreover, will not any such test by the hegemonistic powers or by India—in the given state of global warming and the looming crisis of Life’s survival on this planet—deserve universal condemnation?

(v) If signing the deal with the USA is to end the apartheid against uranium supplies to India, why would India be required to further negotiate with individual countries “in the Nuclear Supplies Group” for uranium supplies? Australia has been persistently saying that it will not supply uranium unless India signs the NPT. What is India’s answer to such statements?

(vi) If it is a fact that our strongest urge for signing this deal comes from our weakness in the form of fuel (uranium) shortage for our existing nuclear power plants, will we not be creating far more vulnerable conditions for ourselves by inviting the USA or other foreign powers to install yet more nuclear reactors in India? Will not the uranium supplying countries keep demanding ever-increasing prices for their materials, in the same manner as the OPEC cartel is dong today? Admittedly, there is no visible sign of any technology emerging for conversion of thorium resources as reactor fuel. Hence more reactors will mean more dependence. Can you deny this?

(vii) You seem to give high priority to nuclear energy in the given condition of soaring oil prices. You also have said that non-expansion of nuclear energy is a luxury, which we cannot afford. Have you cared to give due thought to the issue that high priority to nuclear energy, which is most expensive, ipso facto, means pre-empting the resources for it and shutting out the chances for alternative forms of energy which yield much larger output per unit of investment? Is this not the road to aggravating the energy crunch?

(viii) In the world today, more so, in tropical countries like ours, should not the highest priority be given to renewable energy systems—to solar and wind energy, mini-hydels and micro-hydels, biofuels (sans food-crop base), dispersed hydrogen production on small scales, and to clean coal technology, battery technology, fuel cell and hybrid propulsion technologies (for transport)? It is known that the global giants of petroleum and petrochemical corporations, in the interest of keeping their profit levels high, have been belittling the potentials of the renewable forms of energy in the same manner as the chemical fertilisers interests had earlier been deriding the potential of organic farming and sericulture until their own destructive character becamse apparent. Should you be blinded by these? Why do you not take counsel with your renewable energy advisors and throw the challenges at them?

(ix) While advocating the importance of nuclear energy for meeting our needs, you have said that care should also be taken to see that fissionable material does not fall into the terrorists’ hands. Would you pause to take note that in today’s world, no technology, no material can be kept out of the hands of determined groups? Why try to delude yourself by imagining that both are possible? Moreover, will it not be naive to think that there will be no human error and no such technical fault as can occasion catastrophes like the Three-Mile Island and Chernobyl? Will you care to heed the words of Lord Rutherford, the discoverer of the structure of atoms, in regard to tapping nuclear power for economic enterprises? Would you listen to the advice of Heisenberg, another maker of modern physics and propounder of the Uncertainty Principle, to avoid “demonic science”, which implicitly includes the pursuit of super-hazardous enterprises too?

(x) The pro-deal lobby tells us that if the deal is concluded, we would get the benefits of advanced technologies. There is no whisper of any new process in uranium enrichment or reprocessing of the spent fuel or safe disposal of the nuclear wastes, which the US has developed and our scientists lack. During the last twenty years, the American people have not allowed any nuclear reactor to be set up. There has been an atmosphere of pervasive discouragement of nuclear power in the USA and some other countries. So, what is the advanced civil nuclear technology we hope to get through the deal? Do you hope for the transfer of some “dual-purpose” technologies, which would enhance our strategic capabilities, as a fall-out of this deal? The US industrial-military complexes have a reputation for tantalising. Unless India agrees to become a satellite state, there is no basis for this hope.

(xi) Dear Prime Minister, under your stewardship, India voted in an international forum against Iran’s programme for uranium enrichment. Our plea was that the emergence of yet another nuclear-armed state in India’s vicinity would not be conducive to international peace. But is it at all a defensible proposition that the US, the UK, France, Russia and China will keep stockpiling nuclear arms, and Israel, India and Pakistan will have nuclear arms as a deterrence against aggression but Iran should not have it despite the USA’s repeated threats against it? True, Iran is the epicentre of Shia jihadism. But is that not an issue for a separate kind of battle, for a battle against the distortion of Islam, against the perversion of Quran’s core message of the Unity of Mankind? One perversion cannot cure another perversion. Only justice and equity can.

TO secure non-proliferation, all nuclear weapon states must first start to dismantle and destroy their nuclear weapons. And a regime of non-entropic use of energy, the principle of nature-harmonic lifestyle, and satisfaction of all genuine needs of life by non-polluting and renewable forms of energy—which are now discerned as eminently practicable—will have to be installed as the human agenda. Without this, survival of life on this planet will become impossible. Just as Nature protested against our use of petroleum—which she had kept hidden in her vaults in the deep sub-surface—as our regular energy-income flow rather than as a fixed deposit—this she did by emitting pollutants and greenhouse gases—Nature’s revenge against the use of nuclear energy, hidden deep in the atom’s interior, will spell the doom sooner. The use of gargantuan nuclear energy will soon become a nightmare. Its beneficient use can only be in minute doses in medicine.

The need, therefore, is the start of a powerful campaign for Universal Nuclear Disarmament. Our late Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, had taken some initiative in this regard. Due to our political classes’ ambivalence, rooted in our lack of perspicacity, it has faded out. It must be revived and vigorously pursued. Will you, Mr Prime Minister, move for a UN declaration for banning the use of nuclear weapons and for universal nuclear disarmament? Fortunately, the great philosopher-scientist, Niels Bohr, has left his impassioned address, laden with scientific reasoning, in the form of a memorandum to the US Secretary of States, dated May 17, 1948, and later, in an “open letter to the United Nations”, dated June 9, 1950. Of course, he had not pleaded against nuclear power generation. In his time, none except Lord Rutherford could warn about its danger. But Niels Bohr could foresee the “dangers of unprecedented character” from “disastrous competition in such formidable armaments”. Therefore, he pleaded for (i) “international control of the manufacture and use of these powerful materials”, (ii) “universal access to full information about scientific discoveries” and (iii) “international control of every major technical enterprise, industrial as well as military”, in the domain of nuclear energy. In today’s milieu of pervasive distrust, this is even more difficult. The emerging prospect of nuclear terror and the realisation of dangers of “radioactivity spread” from every aspect of nuclear power generation, and the emerging technologies in renewable energy are making nuclear energy an anachronism.

You would not believe this now. But why not give top priority to the far less expensive renewable forms of energy and clean coal technology (including integrated gasification with combined cycle technology) and keep your nuclear energy as the “last of the priorities”? Since the real cost of nuclear energy is about twice the cost of electricity generation by the clean coal technology route, how can it deserve a higher priority? And since mankind does not as yet know how to dispose of the nuclear wastes, can we go on generating these wastes?

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